Aircraft Propeller Balancing

Propeller unbalance, which is a source of vibration in an aircraft, may be either static or dynamic. Propeller static imbalance occurs when the center of gravity (CG) of the propeller does not coincide with the axis of rotation. Dynamic unbalance results when the CG of similar propeller elements, such as blades or counterweights, does not follow in the same plane of rotation. Since the length of the propeller assembly along the engine crankshaft is short in comparison to its diameter, and since the blades are secured to the hub so they lie in the same plane perpendicular to the running axis, the dynamic unbalance resulting from improper mass distribution is negligible, provided the track tolerance requirements are met. Another type of propeller unbalance, aerodynamic unbalance, results when the thrust (or pull) of the blades is unequal. This type of unbalance can be largely eliminated by checking blade contour and blade angle setting.

Propeller Static Balancing

The knife-edge test stand has two hardened steel edges mounted to allow the free rotation of an assembled propeller between them. [Figure 1] The knife-edge test stand must be located in a room or area that is free from any air motion, and preferably removed from any source of heavy vibration.

Aircraft Propeller Balancing
Figure 1. Positions of two-bladed propeller during a balance check

The standard method of checking propeller assembly balance involves the following sequence of operations:
  1. Insert a bushing in the engine shaft hole of the propeller.
  2. Insert a mandrel or arbor through the bushing.
  3. Place the propeller assembly so that the ends of the arbor are supported upon the balance stand knife-edges. The propeller must be free to rotate.

If the propeller is properly balanced statically, it remains at any position in which it is placed. Check two-bladed propeller assemblies for balance: first with the blades in a vertical position and then with the blades in a horizontal position. Repeat the vertical position check with the blade positions reversed; that is, with the blade that was checked in the downward position placed in the upward position.

Check a three-bladed propeller assembly with each blade placed in a downward vertical position. [Figure 2]

Aircraft Propeller Balancing
Figure 2. Positions of three-bladed propeller during balance check

During a propeller static balance check, all blades must be at the same blade angle. Before conducting the balance check, inspect to see that each blade has been set at the same blade angle.

Unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer, an acceptable balance check requires that the propeller assembly have no tendency to rotate in any of the positions previously described. If the propeller balances perfectly in all described positions, it should also balance perfectly in all intermediate positions. When necessary, check for balance in intermediate positions to verify the check in the originally described positions. [Figure 3]

Aircraft Propeller Balancing
Figure 3. Static propeller balancing

When a propeller assembly is checked for static balance and there is a definite tendency of the assembly to rotate, certain corrections to remove the unbalance are allowed.

  1. The addition of permanent fixed weights at acceptable locations when the total weight of the propeller assembly or parts is under the allowable limit.
  2. The removal of weight at acceptable locations when the total weight of the propeller assembly or parts is equal to the allowable limit.

The location for removal or addition of weight for propeller unbalance correction has been determined by the propeller manufacturer. The method and point of application of unbalance corrections must be checked to see that they are according to applicable drawings.

Dynamic Balancing

Propellers can also be dynamically balanced (spin balanced) with an analyzer kit to reduce the vibration levels of the propeller and spinner assembly. Some aircraft have the system hardwired in the aircraft and on other aircraft the sensors and cables need to be installed before the balancing run. Balancing the propulsion assembly can provide substantial reductions in transmitted vibration and noise to the cabin and also reduces excessive damage to other aircraft and engine components. The dynamic imbalance could be caused by mass imbalance or any aerodynamic imbalance. Dynamic balancing only improves the vibration caused by mass unbalance of the externally rotating components of the propulsion system. Balancing does not reduce the vibration level if the engine or aircraft is in poor mechanical condition. Defective, worn, or loose parts will make balancing impossible. Several manufacturers make dynamic propeller balancing equipment, and their equipment operation could differ. The typical dynamic balancing system consists of a vibration sensor that is attached to the engine close to the propeller, and an analyzer unit that calculates the weight and location of balancing weights.

Propeller Balancing Procedure

Face the aircraft directly into the wind (maximum 20 knots) and place chocks at the wheels. When you have installed the analyzing equipment, run the engine up at low cruise rpm; the dynamic analyzer calculates the balancing weight required at each blade position. After installing the balancing weights, run the engine up again to check if the vibration levels have diminished. This process may have to be repeated several times before satisfactory results are achieved.

A dynamic balancing example procedure is listed here, but always refer to the aircraft and propeller manuals when performing any balancing procedure. Dynamic balance is accomplished by using an accurate means of measuring the amount and location of the dynamic imbalance. The number of balance weights installed must not exceed the limits specified by the propeller manufacturer. Follow the dynamic balance equipment manufacturer’s instructions for dynamic balance in addition to the specifications of the propeller.

Most equipment use an optical pickup that senses reflective tape for rpm reading. Also, there is an accelerometer mounted to the engine that senses vibration in inches per second (ips).

Visually inspect the propeller assembly before dynamic balancing. The first runup of a new or overhauled propeller assembly may leave a small amount of grease on the blades and inner surface of the spinner dome. Use Stoddard solvent (or equivalent) to completely remove any grease on the blades or inner surface of the spinner dome. Visually examine each propeller blade assembly for evidence of grease leakage. Visually examine the inner surface of the spinner dome for evidence of grease leakage. If there is no evidence of grease leakage, lubricate the propeller in accordance with the maintenance manual. If grease leakage is evident, determine the location of the leak and correct before relubricating the propeller and dynamic balancing. Before dynamic balance, record the number and location of all balance weights. Static balance is accomplished at a propeller overhaul facility when an overhaul or major repair is performed. Twelve equally spaced locations are recommended for weight attachment. Install the balancing weights using aircraft quality 10-32 or AN-3 type screws or bolts. Balance weight screws attached to the spinner bulkhead must protrude through the self-locking nuts or nut plates a minimum of one thread and a maximum of four threads. Unless otherwise specified by the engine or airframe manufacturer, Hartzell recommends that the propeller be dynamically balanced to a reading of 0.2 ips, or less. If reflective tape is used for dynamic balancing, remove the tape immediately after balancing is completed. Make a record in the propeller logbook of the number and location of dynamic balance weights, and static balance weights if they have been reconfigured.