11—Transition to Complex Airplanes

Table of Contents
High Performance and Complex Airplanes
Wing Flaps
    Function of Flaps
    Flap Effectiveness
    Operational Procedures
Controllable-Pitch Propeller
    Constant-Speed Propeller
    Takeoff, Climb, and Cruise
    Blade Angle Control
    Governing Range
    Constant-Speed Propeller Operation
    Ground Boosting vs. Altitude Turbocharging
    Operating Characteristics
    Heat Management
    Turbocharger Failure
        Overboost Condition
        Low Manifold Pressure
Retractable Landing Gear
    Landing Gear Systems
    Controls and Position Indicators
    Landing Gear Safety Devices
    Emergency Gear Extension Systems
    Operational Procedures PreFlight
        Takeoff and Climb
        Approach and Landing
Transition Training


Fixed-pitch propellers are designed for best efficiency at one speed of rotation and forward speed. This type of propeller will provide suitable performance in a narrow range of airspeeds; however, efficiency would suffer considerably outside this range. To provide high propeller efficiency through a wide range of operation, the propeller blade angle must be controllable. The most convenient way of controlling the propeller blade angle is by means of a constant-speed governing system.

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The constant-speed propeller keeps the blade angle adjusted for maximum efficiency for most conditions of flight. When an engine is running at constant speed, the torque (power) exerted by the engine at the propeller shaft must equal the opposing load provided by the resistance of the air. The r.p.m. is controlled by regulating the torque absorbed by the propeller—in other words by increasing or decreasing the resistance offered by the air to the propeller. In the case of a fixed-pitch propeller, the torque absorbed by the propeller is a function of speed, or r.p.m. If the power output of the engine is changed, the engine will accelerate or decelerate until an r.p.m. is reached at which the power delivered is equal to the power absorbed. In the case of a constant-speed propeller, the power absorbed is independent of the r.p.m., for by varying the pitch of the blades, the air resistance and hence the torque or load, can be changed without reference to propeller speed. This is accomplished with a constant-speed propeller by means of a governor. The governor, in most cases, is geared to the engine crankshaft and thus is sensitive to changes in engine r.p.m.

The pilot controls the engine r.p.m. indirectly by means of a propeller control in the cockpit, which is connected to the governor. For maximum takeoff power, the propeller control is moved all the way forward to the low pitch/high r.p.m. position, and the throttle is moved forward to the maximum allowable manifold pressure position. To reduce power for climb or cruise, manifold pressure is reduced to the desired value with the throttle, and the engine r.p.m. is reduced by moving the propeller control back toward the high pitch/low r.p.m. position until the desired r.p.m. is observed on the tachometer. Pulling back on the propeller control causes the propeller blades to move to a higher angle. Increasing the propeller blade angle (of attack) results in an increase in the resistance of the air. This puts a load on the engine so it slows down. In other words, the resistance of the air at the higher blade angle is greater than the torque, or power, delivered to the propeller by the engine, so it slows down to a point where the two forces are in balance.

When an airplane is nosed up into a climb from level flight, the engine will tend to slow down. Since the governor is sensitive to small changes in engine r.p.m., it will decrease the blade angle just enough to keep the engine speed from falling off. If the airplane is nosed down into a dive, the governor will increase the blade angle enough to prevent the engine from overspeeding. This allows the engine to maintain a constant r.p.m., and thus maintain the power output. Changes in airspeed and power can be obtained by changing r.p.m. at a constant manifold pressure; by changing the manifold pressure at a constant r.p.m.; or by changing both r.p.m. and manifold pressure. Thus the constant-speed propeller makes it possible to obtain an infinite number of power settings.



During takeoff, when the forward motion of the airplane is at low speeds and when maximum power and thrust are required, the constant-speed propeller sets up a low propeller blade angle (pitch). The low blade angle keeps the angle of attack, with respect to the relative wind, small and efficient at the low speed. [Figure 11-3]

Figure 11-3. Propeller blade angle.

Figure 11-3. Propeller blade angle.

At the same time, it allows the propeller to “slice it thin” and handle a smaller mass of air per revolution. This light load allows the engine to turn at maximum r.p.m. and develop maximum power. Although the mass of air per revolution is small, the number of revolutions per minute is high. Thrust is maximum at the beginning of the takeoff and then decreases as the airplane gains speed and the airplane drag increases. Due to the high slipstream velocity during takeoff, the effective lift of the wing behind the propeller(s) is increased.

As the airspeed increases after lift-off, the load on the engine is lightened because of the small blade angle. The governor senses this and increases the blade angle slightly. Again, the higher blade angle, with the higher speeds, keeps the angle of attack with respect to the relative wind small and efficient.

For climb after takeoff, the power output of the engine is reduced to climb power by decreasing the manifold pressure and lowering r.p.m. by increasing the blade angle. At the higher (climb) airspeed and the higher blade angle, the propeller is handling a greater mass of air per second at a lower slipstream velocity. This reduction in power is offset by the increase in propeller efficiency. The angle of attack is again kept small by the increase in the blade angle with an increase in airspeed.

At cruising altitude, when the airplane is in level flight, less power is required to produce a higher airspeed than is used in climb. Consequently, engine power is again reduced by lowering the manifold pressure and increasing the blade angle (to decrease r.p.m.). The higher airspeed and higher blade angle enable the propeller to handle a still greater mass of air per second at still smaller slipstream velocity. At normal cruising speeds, propeller efficiency is at, or near maximum efficiency. Due to the increase in blade angle and airspeed, the angle of attack is still small and efficient.

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Once the pilot selects the r.p.m. settings for the propeller, the propeller governor automatically adjusts the blade angle to maintain the selected r.p.m. It does this by using oil pressure. Generally, the oil pressure used for pitch change comes directly from the engine lubricating system. When a governor is employed, engine oil is used and the oil pressure is usually boosted by a pump, which is integrated with the governor. The higher pressure provides a quicker blade angle change. The r.p.m. at which the propeller is to operate is adjusted in the governor head. The pilot changes this setting by changing the position of the governor rack through the cockpit propeller control.

On some constant-speed propellers, changes in pitch are obtained by the use of an inherent centrifugal twisting moment of the blades that tends to flatten the blades toward low pitch, and oil pressure applied to a hydraulic piston connected to the propeller blades which moves them toward high pitch. Another type of constant-speed propeller uses counterweights attached to the blade shanks in the hub. Governor oil pressure and the blade twisting moment move the blades toward the low pitch position, and centrifugal force acting on the counterweights moves them (and the blades) toward the high pitch position. In the first case above, governor oil pressure moves the blades towards high pitch, and in the second case, governor oil pressure and the blade twisting moment move the blades toward low pitch. A loss of governor oil pressure, therefore, will affect each differently.


The blade angle range for constant-speed propellers varies from about 11 1/2 to 40°. The higher the speed of the airplane, the greater the blade angle range. [Figure 11-4]

Figure 11-4. Blade angle range (values are approximate.

Figure 11-4. Blade angle range (values are approximate.

The range of possible blade angles is termed the propeller’s governing range. The governing range is defined by the limits of the propeller blade’s travel between high and low blade angle pitch stops. As long as the propeller blade angle is within the governing range and not against either pitch stop, a constant engine r.p.m. will be maintained. However, once the propeller blade reaches its pitch-stop limit, the engine r.p.m. will increase or decrease with changes in airspeed and propeller load similar to a fixed-pitch propeller. For example, once a specific r.p.m. is selected, if the airspeed decreases enough, the propeller blades will reduce pitch, in an attempt to maintain the selected r.p.m., until they contact their low pitch stops. From that point, any further reduction in airspeed will cause the engine r.p.m. to decrease. Conversely, if the airspeed increases, the propeller blade angle will increase until the high pitch stop is reached. The engine r.p.m. will then begin to increase.

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PED Publication