What is a Propeller Aircraft?

Lori Kilchermann

Propeller aircraft are some of the earliest and most proven designs found in aviation. Using wooden, aluminum and composite propeller blades, propeller aircraft continue to be a popular choice for private, commercial and military aircraft around the world. Features such as adjustable pitch propellers have helped make propeller aircraft competitive options in a jet-age aircraft period. Advances such as the turbo prop engine design also have allowed propeller aircraft to remain competitive in the performance arena by producing extremely fast speeds and long-range flights.

Though classified as jet engines because they use a turbine to compress air, the first stage of a turboprop's intake uses a propeller to move air.
Though classified as jet engines because they use a turbine to compress air, the first stage of a turboprop's intake uses a propeller to move air.

Of all the propeller aircraft being used worldwide, perhaps the most well-known and easily identified is the helicopter. The helicopter is also one of the most expensive aircraft designs available. Most people think of a low-budget aircraft when considering propeller aircraft, and this is simply not the case. While it is true that most small aircraft used by private pilots are propeller aircraft, aircraft such as helicopters and the large cargo airplanes used by military services in many countries are very expensive.

Most crop dusters are powered by a single propeller that is driven by a piston engine.
Most crop dusters are powered by a single propeller that is driven by a piston engine.

One of the driving forces behind the many military uses of propeller aircraft is the ease of operation and easy upkeep. Compared to the complex design of a jet engine, propeller equipped engines are very simple and uncomplicated. Maintenance schedules are much less difficult to manage, and the skills required to operate the airplanes are much easier to learn. Some jet-powered aircraft take many more hours of in-flight instruction to become proficient than a similarly sized propeller-driven craft. Perhaps the most pertinent factor in the use of propeller-driven aircraft over the use of jet-engine craft is the relatively minor initial expense in purchasing a propeller-equipped airplane as compared to that of a jet-engine airplane.

Movies such as Top Gun have made the aerobatic flying of jet-powered aircraft exciting and thrilling to young viewers. This has spurred many youngsters to aspire to be great fighter pilots. In the early days of aviation's infancy, World War I pilots such as Germany's Barron Manfred Von Richthofen, affectionately and fearsomely referred to as "The Red Barron," romanticized the life and thrills of a fighter pilot. Planes such as his trusty and menacing red Fokker Triplane became icons of many young men on all sides of the conflict. Perhaps one of the most notable and famous fighter pilots of all time, The Red Barron did as much to popularize air-to-air combat as any other factor in the military.

All of the aircraft that were used during World War I used piston engines that drove propellers.
All of the aircraft that were used during World War I used piston engines that drove propellers.

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