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7 Differences Between Flying Turboprops And Pistons

Don't let the propeller fool you. Turboprops have unique flying characteristics that you should know about.

1) "Jet Lag"

When you transition from a low power setting to a high power setting, there's often a noticeable lag in power application.

The propeller shaft is not directly connected with fuel introduction like in piston engines. Increased airflow must spool up the power turbines to increase power the propeller generates. Pilots refer to this as "jet lag."

Swayne Martin

2) Virtually No Risk Of Shock Cooling

In a piston engine, shock cooling is a result of high speed and low power settings. In new Cessna Caravans, even at idle speed for instance, the engine is still running at roughly 65% of total power.

This is why parachute operations love flying turboprops! After a jump, pilots can chop the power to idle and descend for their next pickup with virtually no risk of shock cooling the engine.

Swayne Martin

3) Cruise Power Settings Are Vastly Different

You'll find economy cruise power settings commonly at and below 65% of total power in piston airplanes. Turboprops on the other hand consistently use more power. With high engine idle speeds at and above 60% of total power, turboprop airplanes are incredibly efficient power producers.

Swayne Martin

4) Turboprops Can Burn More Water

Little bit of water in your fuel? No problem! Turboprop engines are designed to handle a little bit more water in the fuel than piston engines. Because of the vastly greater amounts of oxygen and fuel moving rapidly through a turboprop, only large amounts of water could disrupt the engine.

Swayne Martin

5) Turboprop Engine Limitations

At sea level, turboprops are usually limited by torque settings. As they climb higher, ITT (inter-turbine temperature) limits gain importance. With less air volume to keep the engine burning cool, temperatures spike. Reducing power is one way to solve this problem.

Swayne Martin

6) Beta Range And Reverse Thrust

Propeller control units on turboprop aircraft usually include a beta range (extremely low pitch) and reverse thrust. Both allow pilots to slow the aircraft on the ground with little use of brakes. These features aren't commonly found on piston aircraft.

Swayne Martin

7) You Don't Prime The Combustion Chamber

Sometimes you have to prime piston engines for starts (throw fuel into the cylinders). This is never the case with a turboprop's combustion chamber. You don't prime a turboprop by spraying fuel because even just a little pooled fuel can result in stagnant flames with too little airflow to keep components cool. If pooled fuel is ignited, dangerous temperature spikes within the engine could lead to a hot start and destroy numerous engine components.

Swayne Martin

What are some more differences between flying turboprops and pistons? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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