In aeronautics, a propeller, also called an airscrew, converts rotary motion from an engine or other power source into a swirling slipstream which pushes the propeller forwards or backwards. It comprises a rotating power-driven hub, to which are attached several radial airfoil-section blades such that the whole assembly rotates about a longitudinal axis. The blade pitch may be fixed, manually variable to a few set positions, or of the automatically variable "constant-speed" type.
The propeller attaches to the power source's driveshaft either directly or through reduction gearing. Propellers can be made from wood, metal or composite materials.
Propellers are most suitable for use at subsonic airspeeds generally below about 480 mph (770 km/h), although supersonic speeds were achieved in the McDonnell XF-88B experimental propeller-equipped aircraft. Supersonic tip-speeds are used in some aircraft like the Tupolev Tu-95, which can reach 575 mph (925 km/h).
Theory and design of aircraft propellers
Lowry quotes a propeller efficiency of about 73.5% at cruise for a Cessna 172. This is derived from his "Bootstrap approach" for analyzing the performance of light general aviation aircraft using fixed pitch or constant speed propellers. The efficiency of the propeller is influenced by the angle of attack (α). This is defined as α = Φ - θ, where θ is the helix angle (the angle between the resultant relative velocity and the blade rotation direction) and Φ is the blade pitch angle. Very small pitch and helix angles give a good performance against resistance but provide little thrust, while larger angles have the opposite effect. The best helix angle is when the blade is acting as a wing producing much more lift than drag. However, 'lift-and-drag' is only one way to express the aerodynamic force on the blades. To explain aircraft and engine performance the same force is expressed slightly differently in terms of thrust and torque since the required output of the propeller is thrust. Thrust and torque are the basis of the definition for the efficiency of the propeller as shown below. The advance ratio of a propeller is similar to the angle of attack of a wing.
A propeller's efficiency is determined by
drag wing and as such are poor in operation when at other than their optimum angle of attack. Therefore, most propellers use a variable pitch mechanism to alter the blades' pitch angle as engine speed and aircraft velocity are changed.A sailor checks the propeller of a Landing Craft Air Cushion hovercraft
A further consideration is the number and the shape of the blades used. Increasing the aspect ratio of the blades reduces drag but the amount of thrust produced depends on blade area, so using high-aspect blades can result in an excessive propeller diameter. A further balance is that using a smaller number of blades reduces interference effects between the blades, but to have sufficient blade area to transmit the available power within a set diameter means a compromise is needed. Increasing the number of blades also decreases the amount of work each blade is required to perform, limiting the local Mach number – a significant performance limit on propellers. The performance of a propeller suffers when transonic flow first appears on the tips of the blades. As the relative air speed at any section of a propeller is a vector sum of the aircraft speed and the tangential speed due to rotation, the flow over the blade tip will reach transonic speed well before the aircraft does. When the airflow over the tip of the blade reaches its critical speed, drag and torque resistance increase rapidly and shock waves form creating a sharp increase in noise. Aircraft with conventional propellers, therefore, do not usually fly faster than Mach 0.6. There have been propeller aircraft which attained up to the Mach 0.8 range, but the low propeller efficiency at this speed makes such applications rare.
The tip of a propeller blade travels faster than the hub. Therefore, it is necessary for the blade to be twisted so as to maintain a uniform angle of attack over the whole of the blade.
There have been efforts to develop propellers and propfans for aircraft at high subsonic speeds.  The 'fix' is similar to that of transonic wing design. Thin blade sections are used and the blades are swept back in a scimitar shape (scimitar propeller) in a manner similar to wing sweepback, so as to delay the onset of shockwaves as the blade tips approach the speed of sound. The maximum relative velocity is kept as low as possible by careful control of pitch to allow the blades to have large helix angles. A large number of blades are used to reduce work per blade and so circulation strength. Contra-rotating propellers are used. The propellers designed are more efficient than turbo-fans and their cruising speed (Mach 0.7–0.85) is suitable for airliners, but the noise generated is tremendous (see the Antonov An-70 and Tupolev Tu-95 for examples of such a design).
Forces acting on a propeller
Forces acting on the blades of an aircraft propeller include the following. Some of these forces can be arranged to counteract each other, reducing the overall mechanical stresses imposed.
Thrust loads on the blades, in reaction to the force pushing the air backwards, act to bend the blades forward. Blades are therefore often raked forwards, such that the outward centrifugal force of rotation acts to bend them backwards, thus balancing out the bending effects.
Centrifugal and aerodynamic twisting
A centrifugal twisting force is experienced by any asymmetrical spinning object. In the propeller it acts to twist the blades to a fine pitch. The aerodynamic centre of pressure is therefore usually arranged to be slightly forward of its mechanical centreline, creating a twisting moment towards coarse pitch and counteracting the centrifugal moment. However in a high-speed dive the aerodynamic force can change significantly and the moments can become unbalanced.
The force felt by the blades acting to pull them away from the hub when turning. It can be arranged to help counteract the thrust bending force, as described above.
Air resistance acting against the blades, combined with inertial effects causes propeller blades to bend away from the direction of rotation.
Many types of disturbance set up vibratory forces in blades. These include aerodynamic excitation as the blades pass close to the wing and fuselage. Piston engines introduce torque impulses which may excite vibratory modes of the blades and cause fatigue failures.Torque impulses are not present when driven by a gas turbine engine.-