Effects of the Absence of Propeller in Jet Engines

Absence of Propeller Effect

The absence of a propeller has a significant effect on the operation of jet-powered airplanes that the transitioning pilot must become accustomed to. The effect is due to the absence of lift from the propeller slipstream and the absence of propeller drag.


Absence of Propeller Slipstream

A propeller produces thrust by accelerating a large mass of air rearwards, and (especially with wing-mounted engines) this air passes over a comparatively large percentage of the wing area. On a propeller-driven airplane, the lift that the wing develops is the sum of the lift generated by the wing area not in the wake of the propeller (as a result of airplane speed) and the lift generated by the wing area influenced by the propeller slipstream. By increasing or decreasing the speed of the slipstream air, it is possible to increase or decrease the total lift on the wing without changing airspeed.

For example, a propeller-driven airplane that is allowed to become too low and too slow on an approach is very responsive to a quick blast of power to salvage the situation. In addition to increasing lift at a constant airspeed, stalling speed is reduced with power on. A jet engine, on the other hand, also produces thrust by accelerating a mass of air rearward, but this air does not pass over the wings. Therefore, there is no lift bonus at increased power at constant airspeed and no significant lowering of power-on stall speed.

In not having propellers, the jet-powered airplane is minus two assets:

  • It is not possible to produce increased lift instantly by simply increasing power.
  • It is not possible to lower stall speed by simply increasing power. The 10-knot margin (roughly the difference between power-off and power-on stall speed on a propeller-driven airplane for a given configuration) is lost.

Add the poor acceleration response of the jet engine, and it becomes apparent that there are three ways in which the jet pilot is worse off than the propeller pilot. For these reasons, there is a marked difference between the approach qualities of a piston-engine airplane and a jet. In a piston-engine airplane, there is some room for error. Speed is not too critical and a burst of power salvages an increasing sink rate. In a jet, however, there is little room for error.

If an increasing sink rate develops in a jet, the pilot must remember two points in the proper sequence:

  1. Increased lift can be gained only by accelerating airflow over the wings, and this can be accomplished only by accelerating the entire airplane.
  2. The airplane can be accelerated, assuming altitude loss cannot be afforded, only by a rapid increase in thrust, and here, the slow acceleration of the jet engine (possibly up to 8 seconds) becomes a factor.

Salvaging an increasing sink rate on an approach in a jet can be a very difficult maneuver. The lack of ability to produce instant lift in the jet, along with the slow acceleration of the engine, necessitates a “stabilized approach” to a landing where full landing configuration, constant airspeed, controlled rate of descent, and relatively high power settings are maintained until over the threshold of the runway. This allows for almost immediate response from the engine in making minor changes in the approach speed or rate of descent and makes it possible to initiate an immediate go-around or missed approach if necessary.

Absence of Propeller Drag

When the throttles are closed on a piston-powered airplane, the propellers create a vast amount of drag, and airspeed is immediately decreased or altitude lost. The effect of reducing power to idle on the jet engine, however, produces no such drag effect. In fact, at an idle power setting, the jet engine still produces forward thrust. The main advantage is that the jet pilot is no longer faced with a potential drag penalty of a runaway propeller or a reversed propeller. A disadvantage, however, is the “freewheeling” effect forward thrust at idle has on the jet. While this occasionally can be used to advantage (such as in a long descent), it is a handicap when it is necessary to lose speed quickly, such as when entering a terminal area or when in a landing flare. The lack of propeller drag, along with the aerodynamically clean airframe of the jet, are new to most pilots, and slowing the airplane down is one of the initial problems encountered by pilots transitioning into jets.