Sunday, September 30, 2007


Most small airplanes are designed with reciprocating engines. The name is derived from the back-and-forth, or reciprocating, movement of the pistons. It is this motion that produces the mechanical energy needed to accomplish work. Two common means of classifying reciprocating engines are:
1. by cylinder arrangement with respect to the crankshaft—radial, in-line, v-type or opposed, or
2. by the method of cooling—liquid or air-cooled.

Radial engines were widely used during World War II, and many are still in service today. With these engines, a row or rows of cylinders are arranged in a circular pattern around the crankcase. The main advantage of a radial engine is the favorable power-to-weight ratio.

In-line engines have a comparatively small frontal area, but their power-to-weight ratios are relatively low. In addition, the rearmost cylinders of an air-cooled, in-line engine receive very little cooling air, so these engines are normally limited to four or six cylinders.

V-type engines provide more horsepower than in-line engines and still retain a small frontal area. Further improvements in engine design led to the development of the horizontally-opposed engine. Opposed-type engines are the most popular reciprocating engines used on small airplanes. These engines always have an even number of cylinders, since a cylinder on one side of the crankcase "opposes" a cylinder on the other side. The majority of these engines are air cooled and usually are mounted in a horizontal position when installed on fixed-wing airplanes. Opposed-type engines have high power-toweight ratios because they have a comparatively small, lightweight crankcase. In addition, the compact cylinder arrangement reduces the engine's frontal area and allows a streamlined installation that minimizes aerodynamic drag.

Powerplant—A complete engine and propeller combination with accessories.

The main parts of a reciprocating engine include the cylinders, crankcase, and accessory housing. The intake/exhaust valves, spark plugs, and pistons are located in the cylinders. The crankshaft and connecting rods are located in the crankcase. The magnetos are normally located on the engine accessory housing.

The basic principle for reciprocating engines involves the conversion of chemical energy, in the form of fuel, into mechanical energy. This occurs within the cylinders of the engine through a process known as the four-stroke operating cycle. These strokes are called intake, compression, power, and exhaust.

1. The intake stroke begins as the piston starts its downward travel. When this happens, the intake valve opens and the fuel/air mixture is drawn into the cylinder.
2. The compression stroke begins when the intake valve closes and the piston starts moving back to the top of the cylinder. This phase of the cycle is used to obtain a much greater power output from the fuel/air mixture once it is ignited.
3. The power stroke begins when the fuel/air mixture is ignited. This causes a tremendous pressure increase in the cylinder, and forces the piston downward away from the cylinder head, creating the power that turns the crankshaft.
4. The exhaust stroke is used to purge the cylinder of burned gases. It begins when the exhaust valve opens and the piston starts to move toward the cylinder head once again.

Even when the engine is operated at a fairly low speed, the four-stroke cycle takes place several hundred times each minute. In a four-cylinder engine, each cylinder operates on a different stroke. Continuous rotation of a crankshaft is maintained by the precise timing of the power strokes in each cylinder. Continuous operation of the engine depends on the simultaneous function of auxiliary systems, including the induction, ignition, fuel, oil, cooling, and exhaust systems.

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