Not all airplanes are powered by jet engines. Some of them are powered by propellers. Technically speaking, propeller airplanes still have engines; they just don’t have jet engines. Propeller airplanes, instead, are powered by a different engine type, such as a reciprocating engine, a gas turbine engine or an electric motor. To learn more about propeller airplanes and how they work, keep reading.
The Basics of Propeller Airplanes
Propeller airplanes are defined by their use of one or more propellers. Also known as an airscrew, a propeller is a fan-like blade that rotates to generate propulsion. Propellers are powered by an engine. As the engine consumes energy, it will spin the propeller, thereby generating propulsion that moves the airplane through the air.
History of Propeller Airplanes
Not surprisingly, propeller airplanes have been around for longer than jet airplanes. In the 15 century, Leonardo da Vinci designed a machined featuring a propeller, which many experts believe paved the way for modern-day propeller airplanes. The Wright Brothers also played a role in the advent of the modern-day propeller airplane. They discovered that by twisting the blades on a propeller, airplanes were able to generate more lift. In 1916, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics launched a program to study the aerodynamic-related applications for propellers. It wasn’t long thereafter until propeller airplanes became a common method of transportation.
Engine Types for Propeller Airplanes
While propeller airplanes don’t have jet engines, they still have engines. Most propeller airplanes have either a reciprocating engine, a gas turbine engine or an electric motor. Reciprocating engines are characterized by their reciprocating motion. Also known a piston engine, a reciprocating engine is designed to convert pressure — which is generated by the consumption of energy — into a reciprocating, rotating motion.
Gas turbine engines, on the other hand, use combustion to spin propellers. They consist of a gas compressor, a combustor and a turbine. Gas turbine engines burn fuel and oxygen to generate combustion. This combustion is then used to spin the propeller.
Reciprocating and gas turbine engines are the most common, but some propeller airplanes still use electric motors. Electric motors, of course, are characterized by their use of electricity. They are designed to convert electricity into mechanical energy. In the case of propeller airplanes, electric motors convert electricity into a reciprocating motion. Electric motors aren’t as powerful as reciprocating or gas turbine engines, but they are cleaner and more efficient.