Choosing an Aircraft Propeller

Although many aircraft designs are moving toward jet turbines as their source of thrust, there is still a non-negligible number of vessels dependent on propellers. The propeller design was the first to be implemented on airplanes and has not changed much in its century-old history. When building or repairing an aircraft, one of the most critical factors in determining performance is choosing the right propeller. This determination is entirely-application based, and it is important to know what metrics are involved in choosing an optimal propeller. In this blog, we will discuss everything you need to know about propeller selection.

The biggest variability between propellers in terms of both performance and cost is whether the model is fixed or variable. Both descriptors apply to the blade pitch, which is the angle at which the propeller blade moves through the air. This value greatly affects the angle of attack, which alters the lift coefficient. Variable pitch propellers provide an optimal angle of attack throughout the entire duration of the flight, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing fuel usage. Operators may choose between two popular variable-pitch designs. The first is a hybrid between variable and fixed, allowing the pitch to be set on the ground but not in flight. In contrast, a constant-speed propeller (CSU) automatically adjusts blade pitch in response to varying conditions. When choosing between the various pitch capabilities, it is important to take all costs into consideration. Although fixed-pitch propellers cost less upfront, they will not provide the fuel savings that a variable-pitch model would.

After deciding upon pitch variability, the next factor to consider is the propeller material. Original propellers were made from a series of hardwood laminations molded together. Although stronger and less costly than other materials, wooden propellers have largely been phased out due to their susceptibility to humidity and erosion. Today, the vast majority of propellers are made from aluminum alloys or composite materials. Although more expensive, composite propellers furnish several advantages over their aluminum alloy counterparts. Namely, composite materials are lighter in weight than aluminum, helping reduce engine wear and increase fuel efficiency. They also dampen vibration significantly, helping to reduce noise and protect sensitive avionic systems.

With these propeller variations in mind, we may now discuss the particular determinants that are likely to weigh into the selection process.


Whether upgrading from a wooden propeller to an aluminum or composite model, there is going to be a significant change in the weight and balance of the aircraft. It is important when upgrading or replacing the propeller to determine the degree to which it will affect weight and balance.

Blade Size

Propellers are measured using the diameter between two blades. As a rule, a more powerful engine will require a larger blade diameter to perform at the maximum thrust level. However, blade diameter also plays into the surface area, which must also be optimized to enhance performance. If choosing a propeller with a larger diameter is not feasible, selecting a model with more blades will also provide a higher surface area.

Damage and Balance Issues

When purchasing a used propeller, in particular, it is necessary to complete a thorough inspection, assessing for any signs of physical damage or corrosion. Additionally, a new propeller should be balanced by placing the assembly on mounting holes.


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