Reciprocating Engine Crankshafts

The crankshaft is carried in a position parallel to the longitudinal axis of the crankcase and is generally supported by a main bearing between each throw. The crankshaft main bearings must be supported rigidly in the crankcase. This usually is accomplished by means of transverse webs in the crankcase, one for each main bearing. The webs form an integral part of the structure and, in addition to supporting the main bearings, add to the strength of the entire case. The crankcase is divided into two sections in a longitudinal plane. This division may be in the plane of the crankshaft so that one-half of the main bearing (and sometimes camshaft bearings) are carried in one section of the case and the other half in the opposite section. [Figure 1] Another method is to divide the case in such a manner that the main bearings are secured to only one section of the case on which the cylinders are attached, thereby providing means of removing a section of the crankcase for inspection without disturbing the bearing adjustment.

Aircraft reciprocating engine
Figure 1. Typical opposed engine exploded into component assemblies

The crankshaft is the backbone of the reciprocating engine. It is subjected to most of the forces developed by the engine. Its main purpose is to transform the reciprocating motion of the piston and connecting rod into rotary motion for rotation of the propeller. The crankshaft, as the name implies, is a shaft composed of one or more cranks located at specified points along its length. The cranks, or throws, are formed by forging offsets into a shaft before it is machined. Since crankshafts must be very strong, they generally are forged from a very strong alloy, such as chromium-nickel-molybdenum steel.

A crankshaft may be of single-piece or multipiece construction. Figure 2 shows two representative types of solid crankshafts used in aircraft engines. The four-throw construction may be used either on four-cylinder horizontal opposed or four-cylinder inline engines. The six-throw shaft is used on six-cylinder inline engines, 12-cylinder V-type engines, and six-cylinder opposed engines. Crankshafts of radial engines may be the single-throw, two-throw, or four-throw type, depending on whether the engine is the single-row, twin-row, or four-row type.

Aircraft reciprocating engine
Figure 2. Solid types of crankshafts

A single-throw radial engine crankshaft is shown in Figure 3. No matter how many throws it may have, each crankshaft has three main parts—a journal, crankpin, and crank cheek. Counterweights and dampers, although not a true part of a crankshaft, are usually attached to it to reduce engine vibration.

Aircraft reciprocating engine
Figure 3. A single-throw radial engine crankshaft

The journal is supported by, and rotates in, a main bearing. It serves as the center of rotation of the crankshaft. It is surface-hardened to reduce wear. The crankpin is the section to which the connecting rod is attached. It is off-center from the main journals and is often called the throw. Two crank cheeks and a crankpin make a throw. When a force is applied to the crankpin in any direction other than parallel or perpendicular to and through the center line of the crankshaft, it causes the crankshaft to rotate. The outer surface is hardened by nitriding to increase its resistance to wear and to provide the required bearing surface. The crankpin is usually hollow. This reduces the total weight of the crankshaft and provides a passage for the transfer of lubricating oil. On early engines, the hollow crankpin also served as a chamber for collecting sludge, carbon deposits, and other foreign material. Centrifugal force threw these substances to the outside of the chamber and kept them from reaching the connecting-rod bearing surface. Due to the use of ashless dispersant oils, newer engines no longer use sludge chambers. On some engines, a passage is drilled in the crank cheek to allow oil from the hollow crankshaft to be sprayed on the cylinder walls. The crank cheek connects the crankpin to the main journal. In some designs, the cheek extends beyond the journal and carries a counterweight to balance the crankshaft. The crank cheek must be of sturdy construction to obtain the required rigidity between the crankpin and the journal.

In all cases, the type of crankshaft and the number of crankpins must correspond with the cylinder arrangement of the engine. The position of the cranks on the crankshaft in relation to the other cranks of the same shaft is expressed in degrees.

The simplest crankshaft is the single-throw or 360° type. This type is used in a single-row radial engine. It can be constructed in one or two pieces. Two main bearings (one on each end) are provided when this type of crankshaft is used. The double-throw or 180° crankshaft is used on double-row radial engines. In the radial-type engine, one throw is provided for each row of cylinders.

Crankshaft Balance

Excessive vibration in an engine not only results in fatigue failure of the metal structures, but also causes the moving parts to wear rapidly. In some instances, excessive vibration is caused by a crankshaft that is not balanced. Crankshafts are balanced for static balance and dynamic balance. A crankshaft is statically balanced when the weight of the entire assembly of crankpins, crank cheeks, and counterweights is balanced around the axis of rotation. When checked for static balance, it is placed on two knife edges. If the shaft tends to turn toward any one position during the test, it is out of static balance.

Dynamic Dampers

A crankshaft is dynamically balanced when all the forces created by crankshaft rotation and power impulses are balanced within themselves so that little or no vibration is produced when the engine is operating. To reduce vibration to a minimum during engine operation, dynamic dampers are incorporated on the crankshaft. A dynamic damper is merely a pendulum that is fastened to the crankshaft so that it is free to move in a small arc. It is incorporated in the counterweight assembly. Some crankshafts incorporate two or more of these assemblies, each being attached to a different crank cheek. The distance the pendulum moves and, thus, its vibrating frequency corresponds to the frequency of the power impulses of the engine. When the vibration frequency of the crankshaft occurs, the pendulum oscillates out of time with the crankshaft vibration, thus reducing vibration to a minimum.

The construction of the dynamic damper used in one engine consists of a movable slotted-steel counterweight attached to the crank cheek. Two spool-shaped steel pins extend into the slot and pass through oversized holes in the counterweight and crank cheek. The difference in the diameter between the pins and the holes provides a pendulum effect. An analogy of the functioning of a dynamic damper is shown in Figure 4.

Aircraft reciprocating engine
Figure 4. Principles of a dynamic damper