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Basic Propeller Principles (Part Three) – Torque and P-Factor

in Aerodynamics

Torque and P-Factor

To the pilot, “torque” (the left turning tendency of the airplane) is made up of four elements which cause or produce a twisting or rotating motion around at least one of the airplane’s three axes. These four elements are:

  1. Torque reaction from engine and propeller,
  2. Corkscrewing effect of the slipstream,
  3. Gyroscopic action of the propeller, and
  4. Asymmetric loading of the propeller (P-factor).

Torque Reaction

Torque reaction involves Newton’s Third Law of Physics—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As applied to the aircraft, this means that as the internal engine parts and propeller are revolving in one direction, an equal force is trying to rotate the aircraft in the opposite direction.

Figure 4-39. Torque reaction.

Figure 4-39. Torque reaction.

When the aircraft is airborne, this force is acting around the longitudinal axis, tending to make the aircraft roll. To compensate for roll tendency, some of the older aircraft are rigged in a manner to create more lift on the wing that is being forced downward. The more modern aircraft are designed with the engine offset to counteract this effect of torque.

NOTE: Most United States built aircraft engines rotate the propeller clockwise, as viewed from the pilot’s seat. The discussion here is with reference to those engines.

Generally, the compensating factors are permanently set so that they compensate for this force at cruising speed, since most of the aircraft’s operating lift is at that speed. However, aileron trim tabs permit further adjustment for other speeds.

When the aircraft’s wheels are on the ground during the takeoff roll, an additional turning moment around the vertical axis is induced by torque reaction. As the left side of the aircraft is being forced down by torque reaction, more weight is being placed on the left main landing gear. This results in more ground friction, or drag, on the left tire than on the right, causing a further turning moment to the left. The magnitude of this moment is dependent on many variables. Some of these variables are:

  1. Size and horsepower of engine,
  2. Size of propeller and the rpm,
  3. Size of the aircraft, and
  4. Condition of the ground surface.

This yawing moment on the takeoff roll is corrected by the pilot’s proper use of the rudder or rudder trim. P-Factor.

51UFncHi9pL._SX390_BO1,204,203,200_Learn more about airplane aerodynamics with the Illustrated Guide to Aerodynamics. This unique introductory guide, which sold more than 20,000 copies in its first edition, proves that the principles of flight can be easy to understand, even fascinating, to pilots and technicians who want to know how and why an aircraft behaves as it does.


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