Reciprocating Engine Operation (Part Three)

in Engine Maintenance and Operation

Propeller Pitch Check

The propeller is checked to ensure proper operation of the pitch control and the pitch-change mechanism. The operation of a controllable pitch propeller is checked by the indications of the tachometer and manifold pressure gauge when the propeller governor control is moved from one position to another. Because each type of propeller requires a different procedure, the applicable manufacturer’s instructions should be followed.


Power Check

Specific rpm and manifold pressure relationship should be checked during each ground check. This can be done at the time the engine is run-up to make the magneto check. The purpose of this check is to measure the performance of the engine against an established standard. Calibration tests have determined that the engine is capable of delivering a given power at a given rpm and manifold pressure. The original calibration, or measurement of power, is made by means of a dynamometer in a test cell. During the ground check, power is measured with the propeller. With constant conditions of air density, the propeller, at any fixed-pitch position, always requires the same rpm to absorb the same horsepower from the engine. This characteristic is used in determining the condition of the engine.

With the governor control set for full low pitch, the propeller operates as a fixed-pitch propeller, because the engine is static. Under these conditions, the manifold pressure for any specific engine, with the mixture control in rich, indicates whether all the cylinders are operating properly. With one or more dead or intermittently firing cylinders, the operating cylinders must provide more power for a given rpm. Consequently, the carburetor throttle must be opened further, resulting in higher manifold pressure. Different engines of the same model using the same propeller installation, and at the same barometer and temperature readings, should require the same manifold pressure to within 1 “Hg. A higher than normal manifold pressure usually indicates a dead cylinder or late ignition timing. An excessively low manifold pressure for a particular rpm usually indicates that the ignition timing is early. Early ignition can cause detonation and loss of power at takeoff power settings.

The accuracy of the power check may be affected by the following variables:

  1. Wind—any appreciable air movement (5 mph or more) changes the air load on the propeller blade when it is in the fixed-pitch position. A head wind increases the rpm obtainable with a given manifold pressure. A tail wind decreases the rpm.
  2. Atmospheric temperatures—the effects of variations in atmospheric temperature tend to cancel each other. Higher carburetor intake and cylinder temperatures tend to lower the rpm, but the propeller load is lightened because of the less dense air.
  3. Engine and induction system temperature—if the cylinder and carburetor temperatures are high because of factors other than atmospheric temperature, a low rpm results since the power is lowered without a compensating lowering of the propeller load.
  4. Oil temperature—cold oil tends to hold down the rpm, since the higher viscosity results in increased friction horsepower losses.

Idle Speed and Idle Mixture Checks

Plug fouling difficulty is the inevitable result of failure to provide a proper idle mixture setting. The tendency seems to be to adjust the idle mixture on the extremely rich side and to compensate for this by adjusting the throttle stop to a relatively high rpm for minimum idling. With a properly adjusted idle mixture setting, it is possible to run the engine at idle rpm for long periods. Such a setting results in a minimum of plug fouling and exhaust smoking, and it pays dividends from the savings on the aircraft brakes after landing and while taxiing.

If the wind is not too strong, the idle mixture setting can be checked easily during the ground check as follows:

  1. Close throttle.
  2. Move the mixture control to the idle cutoff position and observe the change in rpm. Return the mixture control back to the rich position before engine cutoff.

As the mixture control lever is moved into idle cutoff, and before normal dropoff, one of two things may occur momentarily:

  1. The engine speed may increase. An increase in rpm, but less than that recommended by the manufacturer (usually 20 rpm), indicates proper mixture strength. A greater increase indicates that the mixture is too rich.
  2. The engine speed may not increase or may drop immediately. This indicates that the idle mixture is too lean. The idle mixture should be set to give a mixture slightly richer than best power, resulting in a 10- to 20-rpm rise after idle cutoff.

Engine Stopping

With each type of engine installation, specific procedures are used in stopping the engine. The general procedure, outlined in the following paragraphs, reduces the time required for stopping, minimizes backfiring tendencies, and prevents overheating of tightly baffled air-cooled engine during operation on the ground.

In stopping any aircraft engine, the controls are set as follows, irrespective of the type or fuel system installation.

  1. Cowl flaps and any other shutters or doors are always placed in the full open position to avoid overheating the engine and are left in that position after the engine is stopped to prevent engine residual heat from deteriorating the ignition system.
  2. Carburetor air-heater control is left in the cold position to prevent damage that may occur from backfire.
  3. Constant speed propeller is usually stopped with the control set in the high pitch (decrease rpm) position.

No mention is made of the throttle, mixture control, fuel selector valve, and ignition switches in the preceding set of directions because the operation of these controls varies with the type of carburetor used with the engine. An engine equipped with a carburetor incorporating an idle cutoff mixture control is stopped as follows:

  1. Idle the engine by setting the throttle for 800 to 1,000 rpm.
  2. Move the mixture control to the idle cutoff position. In a float-type carburetor, it equalizes the pressure in the float chamber and at the discharge nozzle.
  3. After the propeller has stopped rotating, place the ignition switch in the off position.

In addition to the operations outlined previously, check the functioning of various items of aircraft equipment, such as generator systems, hydraulic systems, etc.