You are on page 1of 7


All modern propellers consist of at least two blades that are connected to a central hub. The
portion of a propeller blade that is nearest the hub is referred to as the blade shank whereas the portion
furthest from the hub is called the blade tip. The propeller hub, or hub assembly, is bored out to create a
hub bore which permits a propeller to be mounted on the engine crankshaft or to a reduction gear

Each blade on a propeller acts as a rotating wing to produce lift and pull an aircraft through the
air. Therefore, in addition to the basic nomenclature just discussed, propeller blades share much of the
same nomenclature as aircraft wings. For example, all propeller blades have a leading edge, a trailing
edge, and a chord line. If you recall from your study of airfoils, a chord line is an imaginary line drawn
through an airfoil from the leading edge to the trailing edge. The curved, or cambered side of a propeller
blade is called the blade back and the flat side is called the blade face. A propeller's blade angle is the
acute angle formed by a propeller's plane of rotation and the blade's chord line. A propeller's plane of
rotation is always perpendicular to the engine crankshaft.

All propeller blades have a leading edge, a trailing edge, and a chord line. In addition, all propeller blades are set at a specific
angle that is defined by the acute angle formed by the propeller's plane of rotation and the chord line

Propellers which allow changes in blade angle have removable blades that are secured to a
hub assembly by a set of clamping rings. Each blade root has a flanged butt, or shoulder, which mates with
grooves in the hub assembly. A blade cuff is an airfoil-shaped attachment made of thin sheets of metal,
plastic, or composite material. Blade cuffs mount on the blade shanks and are primarily used to increase
the flow of cooling air to the engine nacelle. Mechanical clamping devices and bonding agents such as a
rubber-base adhesive or epoxy adhesive are utilized to attach the cuffs to the blades.

When the propeller rotates through the air, a low pressure area is created in front of the blade,
much like the wing's curvature creates a low pressure area above the wing. This low pressure area,
combined with the constant, or high pressure area behind the blade allow a propeller to produce thrust.
The amount of thrust produced depends on several factors including, the angle of attack of the propeller
blades, the speed the blades move through the air, and the shape of the airfoil. The angle of attack of a
propeller blade is the angle formed by the chord line of the blade and the relative wind. The direction of
the relative wind is determined by the speed an aircraft moves through the air and the rotational motion
of the propeller. For example, when a propeller rotates on a stationary aircraft, the direction of the relative
wind is exactly opposite to the rotational movement of the propeller. Therefore, the propeller blade's
angle of attack is the same as the propeller blade angle.
When the same aircraft begins moving forward, the relative wind changes direction. The
reason for this is that, in addition to rotating, the propeller is also moving forward. The combination of the
rotating and forward motion produce a resultant relative wind that is not directly opposite the movement
of the propeller blade. In this case, the angle of attack will always be less than the blade angle.

Based on how forward motion affects the relative wind acting on a propeller blade, it can be
determined that for a given propeller speed, the faster an aircraft moves through the air, the smaller the
angle of attack on the propeller blade. However, if propeller speed is increased, the trailing edge of the
propeller blade travels a greater distance for a given amount of forward movement. Therefore, as
propeller speed increases, the relative wind strikes the propeller blade at a greater angle and the angle of
attack increases.

The most effective angle of attack for a propeller blade is between 2 and 4 degrees. Any
angle of attack exceeding 15 degrees is ineffective because of the possibility of a propeller blade stall.
Typically, propellers with a fixed blade angle are designed to produce an angle of attack between 2 and 4
degrees at either a climb or cruise airspeed with a specific rpm setting.

Unlike a wing which moves through the air at a uniform rate, the propeller sections near the tip
rotate at a much greater speed than those near the hub. The difference in rotational velocity along a
propeller blade segment can be found by first calculating the circumference of the arc traveled by a point
on that segment. the circumference of a circle is calculated with the formula: 2irr
The circumference is then multiplied by engine rpm to find rotational velocity.

For example, to determine the blade velocity at a point 18 inches from the hub that is rotating
at 1,800 rpm use the following formula:
Velocity = 2TTr x rpm
= 2 XTT x 18 x 1,800 = 203,575
At a point 18 inches from the hub the blade travels 203,575 inches per minute. To convert
this to miles per hour, divide 203,575 by 63,360, the number of inches in one mile, and multiply the
product by 60, the number of minutes in one hour.

The speed of the propeller at station 18 is 192.7 miles per hour. You can now compare this to the
speed of the propeller at station 48. By applying the formulas just discussed, you can determine that, at station 48,
the propeller is moving at a speed of 514 miles per hour. [Figure 12-7]

To compensate for the difference in velocity along a propeller blade, each small section of the propeller
blade is set at a different angle. The gradual decrease in blade angle from the hub to the tip is called pitch
distribution. This is what gives a propeller blade its twisted appearance. Blade twist allows the propeller to provide
a fairly constant angle of attack along most of the length of the blade.
In addition to blade twist, most propellers are built with a thicker, low speed airfoil near the blade hub
and a thinner, high speed airfoil near the tip. This, combined with blade twist, permits a propeller to produce a
relatively constant amount of thrust along a propeller blade's entire length. [Figure 12-8]


A rotating propeller is subjected to many forces that cause tension, twisting, and bending stresses within
the propeller. Of the forces that act on a propeller, centrifugal force causes the greatest stress. Centrifugal force can
best be described as the force which tries to pull the blades out of the hub. The amount of stress created by
centrifugal force can be greater than 7,500 times the weight of the propeller blade, [Figure 12-9]
Thrust bending force, on the other hand, attempts to bend the propeller blades forward at the
tips. This occurs because propeller blades are typically thinner near the tip and this allows the thrust
produced at the tip to flex the blade forward. Thrust bending force opposes centrifugal force to some
degree. [Figure 12-10]
Torque bending forces occur as air resistance opposes the rotational motion of the propeller
blades. This force tends to bend the blades opposite the direction of rotation. [Figure 12-11]
Aerodynamic twisting force results from the fact that, when a propeller blade produces thrust,
the majority of the thrust produced is exerted ahead of the blade's axis of rotation. Therefore,
aerodynamic twisting force tends to increase a propeller's blade angle. In some cases, aerodynamic
twisting force is used to help change the blade angle on a propeller. [Figure 12-12]
Centrifugal twisting force opposes aerodynamic twisting force in that it attempts to decrease a
propeller's blade angle. When a propeller rotates, centrifugal force tries to align the propeller's center of
mass with its center of rotation. A propeller's center of mass is typically ahead of its center of rotation;
therefore, when a propeller rotates, centrifugal force tries to decrease its blade angle. At operational
speeds, centrifugal twisting force is greater than aerodynamic twisting force and is used in some
propeller designs to decrease the blade angle. [Figure 12-13]
The final force that is exerted on a spinning propeller is blade vibration. When a propeller
produces thrust, blade vibration occurs due to the aerodynamic and mechanical forces that are present.
For example, aerodynamic forces tend to bend the propeller blades forward at the tips producing buffeting
and vibration. On the other hand, mechanical vibrations are caused by the power pulses in a piston engine.
Of the two, mechanical vibrations are considered to be more destructive than aerodynamic vibrations. The
reason for this is that engine power pulses tend to create standing wave patterns in a propeller blade that
can lead to metal fatigue and structural failure.
In the strictest sense, propeller pitch is the theoretical distance a propeller advances
longitudinally in one revolution. Pitch and blade angle describe two different concepts, however, they are
closely related and the two terms are often used interchangeably. For example, when a propeller is said
to have a fixed pitch, what is actually meant is that the blades on the propeller are set at a fixed blade
A propeller's geometric pitch is defined as the distance, in inches, that a propeller will move
forward in one revolution if it were moving through a solid medium and did not encounter any loss of
efficiency. Measurement of geometric pitch is based on the propeller blade angle at a point out from the
propeller hub that is equal to 75 percent of the blade length.
When traveling through air, inefficiencies prevent a propeller from moving forward at a rate
equal to its geometric pitch. Therefore, effective pitch is the actual amount a propeller moves forward in
one revolution. Effective pitch varies from zero when the aircraft is stationary on the ground, to about 90
percent of the geometric pitch during the most efficient flight conditions. The difference between
geometric pitch and effective pitch is called slip.

Propeller slip represents the total losses caused by inefficiencies. [Figure 12-14]
If a propeller has a geometric pitch of 50 inches, in theory it should move forward 50 inches in
one revolution. However, if the aircraft actually moves forward only 35 inches in one revolution, the
effective pitch is 35 inches and the propeller is 70 percent efficient. In this case, slip represents 15 inches
or a 30 percent loss of efficiency. In practice, most propellers are 75 to 85 percent efficient.