The Various Types of Aircraft Reciprocating Engines

Reciprocating engines have long served aircraft with their ability to transform pressure into a rotational motion with the use of one or more reciprocating pistons. Also known as piston engines, such internal combustion engines have seen constant development over the the past century with new and advanced models superseding their predecessors through improved designs and efficiencies. In this blog, we will discuss the common types of aircraft reciprocating engines that have been developed over the years, allowing you to best understand the differences between each.

In-Line Engines

In the earliest days of heavier-than-air flight, piston powered aircraft relied on in-line engines. With an in-line engine, the cylinders are placed in a straight line, reminiscent of the configuration of many automobiles. By placing the cylinders in such a way, the aircraft nose could be narrowed down in size. While this may have been beneficial for increased aerodynamics, it was at the cost of optimal airflow as such engines required liquid coolant for temperature management.

Rotary Engines

During World War I, the rotary engine was produced for the means of outfitting military aircraft with lighter equipment. For its design, the rotary engine rotates alongside the propeller, enabling an increased amount of airflow for optimal cooling. While the air-cooled engine design permitted engineers to forgo liquid cooling, such engines were too bulky to be considered fit for commercial purposes.

V-Type Engines

After the rotary piston engine came the V-type engine, that of which has the appearance of two in-line engines welded together in a “V” shape. While serving various aircraft models, the V-type engine was also popularly used for automobiles, trains, and ships due to its ability to generate large amounts of thrust. V-type engines are typically water-cooled, making them vulnerable for military aircraft due to bullets being capable of piercing and damaging their coolant systems.

Radial Engines

The radial engine was a great leap in smooth and efficient operations, featuring a much more complex design as compared to its predecessor. For its construction, the radial engine utilizes rows of odd-numbered cylinders which are all situated in a circle around a central crankshaft. As this construction permits a smaller crankcase with only one crank per row, the radial piston engine touts a much higher power-to-weight ratio when compared to the V-type engine. Additionally, the arrangement of the engine cylinders increases the flow of air, allowing for efficient temperature control.

Horizontally Opposed Engines

As the most modern variation of reciprocating engines, the horizontally opposed piston engine utilizes a central crankcase with two sets of cylinders on each side. While normally an air-cooled engine type, horizontally opposed engines may also utilize liquid cooling if desired. Despite being a design that is more than half a century old, horizontally opposed engines remain popular for many light aircraft due to their simplisticity, reliability, and ease of maintenance. Furthermore, horizontally opposed engines can operate with the use of multiple aviation fuel types, adding to their benefits.

While the aforementioned engine types are all robust designs that have long served aircraft, all require special care and knowledgeable experts for conducting proper maintenance and repair. ASAP Fulfillment is a leading supplier of aircraft parts, offering our customers competitive pricing and rapid lead-times on piston parts, crankshaft components, and other items needed for maintenance. We are fully dedicated to assisting customers facing AOG requirements, offering same-day shipping on a number of items that we currently have in stock. If there are any parts from our inventory that you are interested in, we invite you to begin with a quote for your comparisons which you may receive through the submission of an Instant RFQ form as provided on our website. Get started today and see how ASAP Fulfillment can serve as your strategic sourcing partner.


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April 14, 2021
March 19, 2021

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