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Major Components (Part Four) The Powerplant

in Aircraft Structure

The powerplant usually includes both the engine and the propeller. The primary function of the engine is to provide the power to turn the propeller. It also generates electrical power, provides a vacuum source for some flight instruments, and in most single-engine airplanes, provides a source of heat for the pilot and passengers. [Figure 2-13] The engine is covered by a cowling, or a nacelle, which are both types of covered housings. The purpose of the cowling or nacelle is to streamline the flow of air around the engine and to help cool the engine by ducting air around the cylinders.

Figure 2-13. Engine compartment.

Figure 2-13. Engine compartment.

The propeller, mounted on the front of the engine, translates the rotating force of the engine into thrust, a forward acting force that helps move the airplane through the air. The propeller may also be mounted on the rear of the engine as in a pusher-type aircraft. A propeller is a rotating airfoil that produces thrust through aerodynamic action. A low pressure area is formed at the back of the propeller’s airfoil, and high pressure is produced at the face of the propeller, similar to the way lift is generated by an airfoil used as a lifting surface or wing. This pressure differential pulls air through the propeller, which in turn pulls the airplane forward.

There are two significant factors involved in the design of a propeller which impact its effectiveness. The angle of a propeller blade, as measured against the hub of the propeller, keeps the angle of attack relatively constant along the span of the propeller blade, reducing or eliminating the possibility of a stall. The pitch is defined as the distance a propeller would travel in one revolution if it were turning in a solid. These two factors combine to allow a measurement of the propeller’s efficiency. Propellers are usually matched to a specific aircraft/powerplant combination to achieve the best efficiency at a particular power setting, and they pull or push depending on how the engine is mounted.


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