Controllable-Pitch Propellers (Part Two)

Governing Range

The blade angle range for constant-speed propellers varies from about 111⁄2° to 40°. The higher the speed of the airplane, the greater the blade angle range. [Figure 11-8]

Figure 11-8. Blade angle range (values are approximate).

Figure 11-8. Blade angle range (values are approximate). [click image to enlarge]

The range of possible blade angles is termed the propeller’s governing range. The governing range is defined by the limits of the propeller blades travel between high and low blade angle pitch stops. As long as the propeller blade angle is within the governing range and not against either pitch stop, a constant engine rpm is maintained. However, once the propeller blade reaches its pitch-stop limit, the engine rpm increases or decreases with changes in airspeed and propeller load similar to a fixed-pitch propeller. For example, once a specific rpm is selected, if the airspeed decreases enough, the propeller blades reduce pitch in an attempt to maintain the selected rpm until they contact their low pitch stops. From that point, any further reduction in airspeed causes the engine rpm to decrease. Conversely, if the airspeed increases, the propeller blade angle increases until the high pitch stop is reached. The engine rpm then begins to increase.

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Constant-Speed Propeller Operation

The engine is started with the propeller control in the low pitch/high rpm position. This position reduces the load or drag of the propeller and the result is easier starting and warm-up of the engine. During warm-up, the propeller blade changing mechanism is operated slowly and smoothly through a full cycle. This is done by moving the propeller control (with the manifold pressure set to produce about 1,600 rpm) to the high pitch/low rpm position, allowing the rpm to stabilize, and then moving the propeller control back to the low pitch takeoff position. This is done for two reasons: to determine whether the system is operating correctly and to circulate fresh warm oil through the propeller governor system. Remember the oil has been trapped in the propeller cylinder since the last time the engine was shut down. There is a certain amount of leakage from the propeller cylinder, and the oil tends to congeal, especially if the outside air temperature is low. Consequently, if the propeller is not exercised before takeoff, there is a possibility that the engine may overspeed on takeoff.

An airplane equipped with a constant-speed propeller has better takeoff performance than a similarly powered airplane equipped with a fixed-pitch propeller. This is because with a constant-speed propeller, an airplane can develop its maximum rated horsepower (red line on the tachometer) while motionless. An airplane with a fixed-pitch propeller, on the other hand, must accelerate down the runway to increase airspeed and aerodynamically unload the propeller so that rpm and horsepower can steadily build up to their maximum. With a constant-speed propeller, the tachometer reading should come up to within 40 rpm of the red line as soon as full power is applied and remain there for the entire takeoff. Excessive manifold pressure raises the cylinder combustion pressures, resulting in high stresses within the engine. Excessive pressure also produces high-engine temperatures. A combination of high manifold pressure and low rpm can induce damaging detonation. In order to avoid these situations, the following sequence should be followed when making power changes.

  • When increasing power, increase the rpm first and then the manifold pressure
  • When decreasing power, decrease the manifold pressure first and then decrease the rpm

The cruise power charts in the AFM/POH should be consulted when selecting cruise power settings. Whatever the combinations of rpm and manifold pressure listed in these charts—they have been flight tested and approved by engineers for the respective airframe and engine manufacturer. Therefore, if there are power settings, such as 2,100 rpm and 24 inches manifold pressure in the power chart, they are approved for use. With a constant-speed propeller, a power descent can be made without over-speeding the engine. The system compensates for the increased airspeed of the descent by increasing the propeller blade angles. If the descent is too rapid or is being made from a high altitude, the maximum blade angle limit of the blades is not sufficient to hold the rpm constant. When this occurs, the rpm is responsive to any change in throttle setting.


Although the governor responds quickly to any change in throttle setting, a sudden and large increase in the throttle setting causes a momentary over-speeding of the engine until the blades become adjusted to absorb the increased power. If an emergency demanding full power should arise during approach, the sudden advancing of the throttle causes momentary over-speeding of the engine beyond the rpm for which the governor is adjusted.

Some important points to remember concerning constant-speed propeller operation are:

  • The red line on the tachometer not only indicates maximum allowable rpm; it also indicates the rpm required to obtain the engine’s rated horsepower.
  • A momentary propeller overspeed may occur when the throttle is advanced rapidly for takeoff. This is usually not serious if the rated rpm is not exceeded by 10 percent for more than 3 seconds.
  • The green arc on the tachometer indicates the normal operating range. When developing power in this range, the engine drives the propeller. Below the green arc, however, it is usually the windmilling propeller that powers the engine. Prolonged operation below the green arc can be detrimental to the engine.
  • On takeoffs from low elevation airports, the manifold pressure in inches of mercury may exceed the rpm. This is normal in most cases, but the pilot should always consult the AFM/POH for limitations.
  • All power changes should be made smoothly and slowly to avoid over-boosting and/or over-speeding.

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