An airplane moving through the air creates a drag force opposing its forward motion. If an airplane is to fly on a level path, there must be a force applied to it that is equal to the drag but acting forward. This force is called thrust. The work done by thrust is equal to the thrust times the distance it moves the airplane.
Work = Thrust × Distance
The power expended by thrust is equal to the thrust times the velocity at which it moves the airplane.
Power = Thrust × Velocity
If the power is measured in horsepower units, the power expended by the thrust is termed thrust horsepower.
The engine supplies brake horsepower through a rotating shaft, and the propeller converts it into thrust horsepower. In this conversion, some power is wasted. For maximum efficiency, the propeller must be designed to keep this waste as small as possible. Since the efficiency of any machine is the ratio of the useful power output to the power input, propeller efficiency is the ratio of thrust horsepower to brake horsepower. The usual symbol for propeller efficiency is the Greek letter η (eta). Propeller efficiency varies from 50 percent to 87 percent, depending on how much the propeller slips.
Pitch is not the same as blade angle, but because pitch is largely determined by blade angle, the two terms are often used interchangeably. An increase or decrease in one is usually associated with an increase or decrease in the other. Propeller slip is the difference between the geometric pitch of the propeller and its effective pitch. [Figure 7-4] Geometric pitch is the distance a propeller should advance in one revolution with no slippage; effective pitch is the distance it actually advances. Thus, geometric or theoretical pitch is based on no slippage. Actual, or effective, pitch recognizes propeller slippage in the air. The relationship can be shown as:
Geometric pitch – Effective pitch = slip
Geometric pitch is usually expressed in pitch inches and calculated by using the following formula:
GP = 2 × π R × tangent of blade angle at 75 percent station
R = Radius at the 75 percent blade station
π = 3.14
Although blade angle and propeller pitch are closely related, blade angle is the angle between the face or chord of a blade section and the plane in which the propeller rotates. [Figure 7-5] Blade angle, usually measured in degrees, is the angle between the chordline of the blade and the plane of rotation. The chordline of the propeller blade is determined in about the same manner as the chordline of an airfoil. In fact, a propeller blade can be considered as being composed of an infinite number of thin blade elements, each of which is a miniature airfoil section whose chord is the width of the propeller blade at that section. Because most propellers have a flat blade face, the chord line is often drawn along the face of the propeller blade.
The typical propeller blade can be described as a twisted airfoil of irregular planform. Two views of a propeller blade are shown in Figure 7-6. For purposes of analysis, a blade can be divided into segments that are located by station numbers in inches from the center of the blade hub. The cross-sections of each 6-inch blade segment are shown as airfoils in the right side of Figure 7-6. Also identified in Figure 7-6 are the blade shank and the blade butt. The blade shank is the thick, rounded portion of the propeller blade near the hub and is designed to give strength to the blade. The blade butt, also called the blade base or root, is the end of the blade that fits in the propeller hub. The blade tip is that part of the propeller blade farthest from the hub, generally defined as the last 6 inches of the blade.
A cross-section of a typical propeller blade is shown in Figure 7-7. This section or blade element is an airfoil comparable to a cross-section of an aircraft wing. The blade back is the cambered or curved side of the blade, similar to the upper surface of an aircraft wing. The blade face is the flat side of the propeller blade. The chord line is an imaginary line drawn through the blade from the leading edge to the trailing edge. The leading edge is the thick edge of the blade that meets the air as the propeller rotates.
A rotating propeller is acted upon by centrifugal twisting, aerodynamic twisting, torque bending, and thrust bending forces. The principal forces acting on a rotating propeller are illustrated in Figure 7-8.
Centrifugal force is a physical force that tends to throw the rotating propeller blades away from the hub. [Figure 7-8A] This is the most dominant force on the propeller. Torque bending force, in the form of air resistance, tends to bend the propeller blades in the direction opposite that of rotation. [Figure 7-8B] Thrust bending force is the thrust load that tends to bend propeller blades forward as the aircraft is pulled through the air. [Figure 7-8C] Aerodynamic twisting force tends to turn the blades to a high blade angle. [Figure 7-8D] Centrifugal twisting force, being greater than the aerodynamic twisting force, tends to force the blades toward a low blade angle.
At least two of these forces acting on the propellers blades are used to move the blades on a controllable pitch propeller. Centrifugal twisting force is sometimes used to move the blades to the low pitch position, while aerodynamic twisting force is used to move the blades into high pitch. These forces can be the primary or secondary forces that move the blades to the new pitch position.
A propeller must be capable of withstanding severe stresses, which are greater near the hub, caused by centrifugal force and thrust. The stresses increase in proportion to the rpm. The blade face is also subjected to tension from the centrifugal force and additional tension from the bending. For these reasons, nicks or scratches on the blade may cause very serious consequences. These could lead to cracks and failure of the blade.
A propeller must also be rigid enough to prevent fluttering, a type of vibration in which the ends of the blade twist back and forth at high frequency around an axis perpendicular to the engine crankshaft. Fluttering is accompanied by a distinctive noise, often mistaken for exhaust noise. The constant vibration tends to weaken the blade and eventually causes failure.