The Feeling Of Flying Radials


For private pilots and aircraft owners, the motivation behind this pursuit can be personal, but it can also be practical. Along with a love of aeronautics, pilots are also in tune with engine performance, as this does impact the overall experience. For owners of small commercial fleets, a focus on safety and efficient performance can often be the deciding factor in terms of what type of aircraft and what type of engine will provide the strongest asset.

Drive or Fly a Stick

This also means that many pilots have a strong preference regarding the engines they use. When PT6A turbines were first introduced, it revolutionized the industry, since it allowed for lighter planes to still achieve greater power. However, while radials are often overlooked as being bulky, heavy, and more labor intensive to maintain, the simplicity of the engine design also offers advantaged that a turbine will not.

In the same manner that vehicle owners may have a preference between automatic and standard transmissions, aircraft owners will also trend towards an engine that may be easier to operate versus an engine that offers greater control. When thinking about an R-985 or R-1340 engine within this comparison, the radial can be equated to a standard gearshift. In the same manner that knowledge of mechanics and operation can enhance the performance of a standard vehicle, understanding the radial engine can also provide a more satisfying and efficient experience.

Aircraft by Gillfoto

Learning To Move With The Engine

Part of flying with a radial engine is an art, since it requires both mechanical knowledge as well as the ability to hear and feel the engine changes and adjust accordingly. This also means that some of the actions that can improve performance can seem initially counterintuitive. At Covington Aircraft, we find that the following tips can enhance both the experience and functionality of flying with a radial engine.

  • Don’t be afraid of the throttle – this is especially true during take-off, where there is often a fear about opening the throttle too wide. Since radials operate with a basic carburetor and fuel flow valve, this will regulate how much fuel flows to the engine. Utilizing full throttle on take-off gives better power and lift, and a smoother transition into cruising speed.
  • Pay attention to RPM – manifold pressure and high RPM can result in excessive wear, but can also turn into overheating and lack of airflow on the engine during flight. Ideally, the difference between RPMs and manifold pressure should be no greater than a spread of 10, as this ensures the optimal cooling to all parts of the radial engine.
  • Clean fuel equals a smoother flight – many of the hiccups that can be experienced with radial engines are actually the result of debris and clogging that can happen in the fuel system. Pre-flight, it is important to sump the tanks and drain off any water. Periodically, it is important to clean and replace fuel filters if needed. In-flight, it is necessary to remember that higher horsepower will also mean less fuel consumption for this type of engine. The added thrust can not only improve the quality of flight, but it can also ensure that the engine gets more flight time.


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