Constant Speed Propellers

Hartzell Constant Speed, Nonfeathering

Hartzell propellers can be divided by Aluminum hub (compact) and steel hub. Hartzell compact aluminum propellers represent new concepts in basic design. They combine low weight and simplicity in design and rugged construction. In order to achieve these ends, the hub is made as compact as possible, utilizing aluminum alloy forgings for most of the parts. The hub shell is made in two halves, bolted together along the plane of rotation. This hub shell carries the pitch change mechanism and blade roots internally. The hydraulic cylinder, which provides power for changing the pitch, is mounted at the front of the hub. The propeller can be installed only on engines with flanged mounting provisions.

Constant Speed Aircraft Propellers
Figure 1. Constant speed non-feathering propeller

One model of nonfeathering aluminum hub constant-speed propeller utilizes oil pressure from a governor to move the blades into high pitch (reduced rpm). The centrifugal twisting moment of the blades tends to move them into low pitch (high rpm) in the absence of governor oil pressure. This is an exception to most of the aluminum hub models and feathering models. Most of the Hartzell propeller aluminum and steel hub models use centrifugal force acting on blade counterweights to increase blade pitch and governor oil pressure for low pitch. Many types of light aircraft use governor-regulated, constant-speed propellers in two-bladed and up to six-bladed versions. These propellers may be the nonfeathering type, or they may be capable of feathering and reversing. The steel hub contains a central “spider,” that supports aluminum blades with a tube extending inside the blade roots. Blade clamps connect the blade shanks with blade retention bearings. A hydraulic cylinder is mounted on the rotational axis connected to the blade clamps for pitch actuation. [Figure 1]

The basic hub and blade retention is common to all models described. The blades are mounted on the hub spider for angular adjustment. The centrifugal force of the blades, amounting to as much as 25 tons, is transmitted to the hub spider through blade clamps and then through ball bearings. The propeller thrust and engine torque is transmitted from the blades to the hub spider through a bushing inside the blade shank. In order to control the pitch of the blades, a hydraulic piston-cylinder element is mounted on the front of the hub spider. The piston is attached to the blade clamps by means of a sliding rod and fork system for nonfeathering models and a link system for the feathering models. The piston is actuated in the forward direction by means of oil pressure supplied by a governor, which overcomes the opposing force created by the counterweights. Hartzell and McCauley propellers for light aircraft are similar in operation. The manufacturer’s specifications and instructions must be consulted for information on specific models.

Constant-Speed Feathering Propeller

The feathering propeller utilizes a single oil supply from a governing device to hydraulically actuate a change in blade angle. [Figure 2] This propeller has five blades and is used primarily on Pratt & Whitney turbine engines. A two piece aluminum hub retains each propeller blade on a thrust bearing. A cylinder is attached to the hub and contains a feathering spring and piston. The hydraulically actuated piston transmits linear motion through a pitch change rod and fork to each blade to result in blade angle change.

Constant Speed Aircraft Propellers
Figure 2. Constant-speed feathering propeller

While the propeller is operating, the following forces are constantly present: 1) spring force, 2) counterweight force, 3) centrifugal twisting moment of each blade, and 4) blade aerodynamic twisting forces. The spring and counterweight forces attempt to rotate the blades to higher blade angle, while the centrifugal twisting moment of each blade is generally toward lower blade angle. Blade aerodynamic twisting force is usually very small in relation to the other forces and can attempt to increase or decrease blade angle. The summation of the propeller forces is toward higher pitch (low rpm) and is opposed by a variable force toward lower pitch (high rpm).

The variable force is oil under pressure from a governor with an internal pump that is mounted on and driven by the engine. The oil from the governor is supplied to the propeller and hydraulic piston through a hollow engine shaft. Increasing the volume of oil within the piston and cylinder decreases the blade angle and increases propeller rpm. If governor-supplied oil is lost during operation, the propeller increases pitch and feather. Feathering occurs because the summation of internal propeller forces causes the oil to drain out of the propeller until the feather stop position is reached. Normal in-flight feathering is accomplished when the pilot retards the propeller condition lever past the feather detent. This permits control oil to drain from the propeller and return to the engine sump. Engine shutdown is normally accomplished during the feathering process. Normal in-flight unfeathering is accomplished when the pilot positions the propeller condition lever into the normal flight (governing) range and restarts the engine. As engine speed increases, the governor supplies oil to the propeller and the blade angle decreases. Decreasing the volume of oil increases blade angle and decrease propeller rpm. By changing blade angle, the governor can vary the load on the engine and maintain constant engine rpm (within limits), independent of where the power lever is set. The governor uses engine speed sensing mechanisms that permit it to supply or drain oil as necessary to maintain constant engine speed (rpm). Most of the steel hub Hartzell propellers and many of the aluminum hub are full feathering. These feathering propellers operate similarly to the nonfeathering ones except the feathering spring assists the counterweights to increase the pitch.

Feathering is accomplished by releasing the governor oil pressure, allowing the counterweights and feathering spring to feather the blades. This is done by pulling the condition lever (pitch control) back to the limit of its travel, which opens up a port in the governor allowing the oil from the propeller to drain back into the engine. Feathering occurs because the summation of internal propeller forces causes the oil to drain out of the propeller until the feather stop position is reached. The time necessary to feather depends upon the size of the oil passage from the propeller to the engine, and the force exerted by the spring and counterweights. The larger the passage is through the governor and the heavier the spring, the quicker the feathering action is. An elapsed time for feathering of between 3 and 10 seconds is usual with this system. Engine shutdown is normally accomplished during the feathering process.

In order to prevent the feathering spring and counterweights from feathering the propeller when the engine is shut down and the engine stopped, automatically removable high-pitch stops were incorporated in the design. These consist of spring-loaded latches fastened to the stationary hub that engage high-pitch stop plates bolted to the movable blade clamps. When the propeller is in rotation at speeds over 600–800 rpm, centrifugal force acts to disengage the latches from the high-pitch stop plates so that the propeller pitch may be increased to the feathering position. At lower rpm, or when the engine is stopped, the latch springs engage the latches with the high-pitch stops, preventing the pitch from increasing further due to the action of the feathering spring. As mentioned earlier, the engine load would be excessive, especially on fixed-turbine turboprop engines. One safety feature inherent in this method of feathering is that the propeller feathers if the governor oil pressure drops to zero for any reason. As the governor obtains its supply of oil from the engine lubricating system, it follows that if the engine runs out of oil or if oil pressure fails due to breakage of a part of the engine, the propeller feathers automatically. This action may save the engine from further damage in case the pilot is not aware of trouble.


Unfeathering can be accomplished by any of several methods, as follows:
  1. Start the engine, so the governor can pump oil back into the propeller to reduce pitch. In most light twins, this procedure is considered adequate since the feathering of the propeller would happen infrequently. Vibration can occur when the engine starts and the propeller starts to come out of feather.
  2. Provide an accumulator connected to the governor with a valve to trap an air-oil charge when the propeller is feathered, but released to the propeller when the rpm control is returned to normal position. This system is used with training aircraft because it unfeathers the propeller in a very short time and starts the engine wind milling.
  3. Provide an unfeathering pump that provides pressure to force the propeller back to low pitch quickly using engine oil.

Normal in-flight unfeathering is accomplished when the pilot positions the propeller condition lever into the normal flight (governing) range. [Figure 3]

Constant Speed Aircraft Propellers
Figure 3. Unfeathering system

This causes the governor to disconnect the propeller oil supply from drain and reconnects it to the governed oil supply line from the governor. At that point, there is no oil available from the engine oil pump to the governor; therefore, no governed oil is available from the governor for controlling the propeller blade angle and rpm. As the engine is started, its speed increases, the governor supplies oil to the propeller, and the blade angle decreases. As soon as the engine is operating, the governor starts to unfeather the blades. Soon, windmilling takes place, which speeds up the process of unfeathering.

In general, restarting and unfeathering of propellers can be classified as reciprocating engine restart unfeathering, turboprop engine restart unfeathering, and accumulator unfeathering. When reciprocating unfeathering is used, the engine takes a little longer to start turning enough to provide oil pressure to the governor and then to the propeller. This delay can cause vibration as the propeller is unfeathered. Many aircraft can use an accumulator to provide stored pressure to unfeather the propeller much quicker.

Special unfeathering systems are available for certain aircraft where restarting the engine is difficult or for training purposes. The system consists of an oil accumulator connected to the governor through a valve. [Figure 3] The air or nitrogen pressure in one side of the accumulator pushes a piston to force oil from the other side of the accumulator through the governor to the propeller piston to move the propeller blades from feather to a lower blade angle. The propeller then begins to windmill and permits the engine to start. When the unfeathering pump is used, it is an additional pump that, once the propeller control is in the correct position, the (full increase rpm) pump is actuated and the oil pressure from the pump unfeathers the propeller.