How Different Aircraft Engine Types Impact Flight

Since the advent of powered flight, aircraft design has been immensely expanded as various forms of aircraft engines have come about. Varying in design, complexity, and operation, different aircraft engines can provide for unique styles of operations. To help you understand the differences in flying with various engine types, we will discuss each and the operations they provide for.

Piston Engines

Piston engines serve as the original classification of aircraft engines, and they are notable for their use of driven propellers for creating the thrust necessary for heavier-than-air flight. While piston engines are not as widely used for large passenger aircraft in the modern day, they can still be found on a number of small models. Generally, piston engines operate through the use of crankshafts, valves, and pistons that open and close at regular intervals to compress, ignite, and expel fuel and gas.

Piston engine aircraft are regularly the first models that most pilots will learn to fly, and popular models include those belonging to the Cessna, Piper, or Diamond brand. Due to the small size and limited power of piston engines, such aircraft are often operated at lower speeds than small passenger jets. When high speed is not a concern, piston engines are beneficial for their cost-effectiveness when traversing at lower altitudes. If you plan to operate with a piston engine, make sure you are well familiar with power settings and when they should be used so that safe and efficient flight can be upheld with ease.

Turboprop Engines

Turboprop engines are more advanced than piston engines, utilizing reverse airflow to direct pressurized oxygen into the combustor of the engine. Upon igniting fuel-and-air mixtures, the engine turbine assembly is driven for the means of generating energy for the aircraft. Turboprops are commonly found on aircraft that are designed for regional travel, and they utilize Jet-A fuel.

When switching between low and high power settings with a turboprop engine, one may notice a short lag in regard to the application of power. This is a result of the additional airflow needed to increase power, and turboprop engines are known for their high power demands. As turboprop engines often face torque setting limitations and may break down easier, some pilots tend to avoid them with a preference for other options.

Turbofan Engines

Turbofan engines are one of the most modern and advanced iterations of aircraft engines, and they are known for their low noise and emission operations. Turbofan engines find regular implementation on passenger jets, and they operate through the use of turbofans, compressors, combustors, turbines, and nozzles. This allows for air to be rapidly forced through the combustor, resulting in increased thrust generation when compared to piston engines and turboprops.

Unlike other options, many pilots tend to feel that turbofan engines are more automated, and they are more versatile in their ability to adapt to various conditions. Nevertheless, the cockpit of a turbofan powered aircraft will often be much more complex than that of a piston powered aircraft, featuring more glass instruments rather than steam gauges. As the workload of operations may increase, such engines regularly require two pilots or a first officer.


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