As previously stated, a turboprop airplane flies just like any other piston engine airplane of comparable size and weight. It is the operation of the engines and airplane systems that makes the turboprop airplane different from its piston engine counterpart. Pilot errors in engine and/or systems operation are the most common cause of aircraft damage or mishap. The time of maximum vulnerability to pilot error in any gas turbine engine is during the engine start sequence.
Turbine engines are extremely heat sensitive. They cannot tolerate an over temperature condition for more than a very few seconds without serious damage being done. Engine temperatures get hotter during starting than at any other time. Thus, turbine engines have minimum rotational speeds for introducing fuel into the combustion chambers during startup. Vigilant monitoring of temperature and acceleration on the part of the pilot remain crucial until the engine is running at a stable speed. Successful engine starting depends on assuring the correct minimum battery voltage before initiating start or employing a ground power unit (GPU) of adequate output.
After fuel is introduced to the combustion chamber during the start sequence, “light-off” and its associated heat rise occur very quickly. Engine temperatures may approach the maximum in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds before the engine stabilizes and temperatures fall into the normal operating range. During this time, the pilot must watch for any tendency of the temperatures to exceed limitations and be prepared to cut off fuel to the engine.
An engine tendency to exceed maximum starting temperature limits is termed a hot start. The temperature rise may be preceded by unusually high initial fuel flow, which may be the first indication the pilot has that the engine start is not proceeding normally. Serious engine damage occurs if the hot start is allowed to continue.
A condition where the engine is accelerating more slowly than normal is termed a hung start or false start. During a hung start/false start, the engine may stabilize at an engine rpm that is not high enough for the engine to continue to run without help from the starter. This is usually the result of low battery power or the starter not turning the engine fast enough for it to start properly.
Takeoffs in turboprop airplanes are not made by automatically pushing the power lever full forward to the stops. Depending on conditions, takeoff power may be limited by either torque or by engine temperature. Normally, the power lever position on takeoff is somewhat aft of full forward.
Takeoff and departure in a turboprop airplane (especially a twin-engine cabin-class airplane) should be accomplished in accordance with a standard takeoff and departure “profile” developed for the particular make and model. [Figure 14-11] The takeoff and departure profile should be in accordance with the airplane manufacturer’s recommended procedures as outlined in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved Airplane Flight Manual and/or the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (AFM/POH). The increased complexity of turboprop airplanes makes the standardization of procedures a necessity for safe and efficient operation. The transitioning pilot should review the profile procedures before each takeoff to form a mental picture of the takeoff and departure process.
For any given high horsepower operation, the pilot can expect that the engine temperature will climb as altitude increases at a constant power. On a warm or hot day, maximum temperature limits may be reached at a rather low altitude, making it impossible to maintain high horsepower to higher altitudes. Also, the engine’s compressor section has to work harder with decreased air density. Power capability is reduced by high-density altitude and power use may have to be modulated to keep engine temperature within limits.
In a turboprop airplane, the pilot can close the throttles(s) at any time without concern for cooling the engine too rapidly. Consequently, rapid descents with the propellers in low pitch can be dramatically steep. Like takeoffs and departures, approach and landing should be accomplished in accordance with a standard approach and landing profile. [Figure 14-12]
A stabilized approach is an essential part of the approach and landing process. In a stabilized approach, the airplane, depending on design and type, is placed in a stabilized descent on a glidepath ranging from 2.5 to 3.5°. The speed is stabilized at some reference from the AFM/POH—usually 1.25 to 1.30 times the stall speed in approach configuration. The descent rate is stabilized from 500 fpm to 700 fpm until the landing flare.
Landing some turboprop airplanes (as well as some piston twins) can result in a hard, premature touchdown if the engines are idled too soon. This is because large propellers spinning rapidly in low pitch create considerable drag. In such airplanes, it may be preferable to maintain power throughout the landing flare and touchdown. Once firmly on the ground, propeller beta range operation dramatically reduces the need for braking in comparison to piston airplanes of similar weights.