To increase an engine’s horsepower, manufacturers have developed forced induction systems called supercharger and turbosupercharger systems. They both compress the intake air to increase its density. The key difference lies in the power supply. A supercharger relies on an engine-driven air pump or compressor, while a turbocharger gets its power from the exhaust stream that runs through a turbine, which in turn spins the compressor. Aircraft with these systems have a manifold pressure gauge, which displays MAP within the engine’s intake manifold.


On a standard day at sea level with the engine shut down, the manifold pressure gauge indicates the ambient absolute air pressure of 29.92 “Hg. Because atmospheric pressure decreases approximately 1 “Hg per 1,000 feet of altitude increase, the manifold pressure gauge indicates approximately 24.92 “Hg at an airport that is 5,000 feet above sea level with standard day conditions.

As a normally aspirated aircraft climbs, it eventually reaches an altitude where the MAP is insufficient for a normal climb. This altitude limit is known as the aircraft’s service ceiling, and it is directly affected by the engine’s ability to produce power. If the induction air entering the engine is pressurized, or boosted, by either a supercharger or a turbosupercharger, the aircraft’s service ceiling can be increased. With these systems, an aircraft can fly at higher altitudes with the advantage of higher true airspeeds and the increased ability to circumnavigate adverse weather.


A supercharger is an engine-driven air pump or compressor that provides compressed air to the engine to provide additional pressure to the induction air so that the engine can produce additional power. It increases manifold pressure and forces the fuel-air mixture into the cylinders. Higher manifold pressure increases the density of the fuel-air mixture and increases the power an engine can produce. With a normally aspirated engine, it is not possible to have manifold pressure higher than the existing atmospheric pressure. A supercharger is capable of boosting manifold pressure above 30 “Hg.

For example, at 8,000 feet, a typical engine may be able to produce 75 percent of the power it could produce at mean sea level (MSL) because the air is less dense at the higher altitude. The supercharger compresses the air to a higher density allowing a supercharged engine to produce the same manifold pressure at higher altitudes as it could produce at sea level. Thus, an engine at 8,000 feet MSL could still produce 25 “Hg of manifold pressure whereas, without a supercharger, it could only produce 22 “Hg. Superchargers are especially valuable at high altitudes (such as 18,000 feet) where the air density is 50 percent that of sea level. The use of a supercharger in many cases will supply air to the engine at the same density it did at sea level.

The components in a supercharged induction system are similar to those in a normally aspirated system, with the addition of a supercharger between the fuel metering device and intake manifold. A supercharger is driven by the engine through a gear train at one speed, two speeds, or variable speeds. In addition, superchargers can have one or more stages. Each stage also provides an increase in pressure and superchargers may be classified as single stage, two stage, or multistage, depending on the number of times compression occurs.

An early version of a single-stage, single-speed supercharger may be referred to as a sea-level supercharger. An engine equipped with this type of supercharger is called a sea-level engine. With this type of supercharger, a single gear-driven impeller is used to increase the power produced by an engine at all altitudes. The drawback with this type of supercharger is a decrease in engine power output with an increase in altitude.


Single-stage, single-speed superchargers are found on many high-powered radial engines and use an air intake that faces forward so the induction system can take full advantage of the ram air. Intake air passes through ducts to a carburetor, where fuel is metered in proportion to the airflow. The fuel-air charge is then ducted to the supercharger, or blower impeller, which accelerates the fuel-air mixture outward. Once accelerated, the fuel-air mixture passes through a diffuser, where air velocity is traded for pressure energy. After compression, the resulting high pressure fuel-air mixture is directed to the cylinders.

Some of the large radial engines developed during World War II have a single-stage, two-speed supercharger. With this type of supercharger, a single impeller may be operated at two speeds. The low impeller speed is often referred to as the low blower setting, while the high impeller speed is called the high blower setting. On engines equipped with a two-speed supercharger, a lever or switch in the flight deck activates an oil-operated clutch that switches from one speed to the other.

Under normal operations, takeoff is made with the supercharger in the low blower position. In this mode, the engine performs as a ground-boosted engine, and the power output decreases as the aircraft gains altitude. However, once the aircraft reaches a specified altitude, a power reduction is made, and the supercharger control is switched to the high blower position. The throttle is then reset to the desired manifold pressure. An engine equipped with this type of supercharger is called an altitude engine. [Figure 7-14]

Figure 7-14. Power output of normally aspirated engine compared to a single-stage, two-speed supercharged engine.

Figure 7-14. Power output of normally aspirated engine compared to a single-stage, two-speed supercharged engine.

Flight Literacy Recommends

Rod Machado's Private Pilot Handbook -Flight Literacy recommends Rod Machado's products because he takes what is normally dry and tedious and transforms it with his characteristic humor, helping to keep you engaged and to retain the information longer. (see all of Rod Machado's Products).