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Differences Between Piston and Turboprop Aircraft

Piston engines have been around since the early days of aviation, whereas turboprops are a relatively recent addition. As such, despite both using a propeller to create thrust, there are many major differences between them to consider. However, while turboprop engines may be newer in consideration to their predecessor, they may not always be the better choice of the two depending on the aircraft. In fact, piston engines still find use in small aircraft as a capable and cost-effective option. To learn more about how these two engine types work and what differs between them, read on as we discuss turboprop and piston airplanes in detail.

What Is a Turboprop?

A turboprop is a type of jet or gas turbine engine that uses a propeller to create thrust, and like any internal combustion engine, it relies on a mixture of continuously working parts to properly function. Upon system ignition, air will first enter through the front of the engine via the intake valve. Then, it is brought into the compressor where its temperature and pressure increases before being introduced into the combustion chamber. Once in the combustion chamber, jet fuel is mixed with hot pressurized air so that it combusts, creating an explosive force that jettisons the air towards the rear of the engine. In a turboprop engine, this exhaust gas is used to run a turbine at the backside of the combustion chamber.

What Is a Piston Engine?

While also an internal combustion engine, piston engines utilize their produced combustive force to move pistons which drive a propeller. As such, they complete a similar process as turboprops, but with exhaust gasses being used to drive pistons, rather than being directed to turbines for further use. Moreover, unlike turboprop engines, combustion chambers composing piston engines are located directly within the cylinders where the pistons operate. This means that when the crankshaft spins and causes the piston to reciprocate, the compression stroke creates combustion out of the fuel/air mixture, forcing the piston back up. This action further rotates the crankshaft directly connected to the propeller, causing it to turn at the same rotational speed. As the propeller turns, it generates thrust to power the plane, enabling flight.

Turboprop vs Piston Airplanes

When comparing the two types of airplane engines, apart from their differing design, there are three other major factors to consider: efficiency, performance, and safety.

Efficiency: When it comes to efficiency, both engines can be more effective than the other in a given set of circumstances. Turboprops are seemingly more efficient as their size increases, while piston engines are typically more reliable the smaller they are. Consequently, the efficiency of the engine will depend on the specific aircraft, the way it is used, and its engine and size.

Performance: Perhaps one of the most significant factors to consider, performance includes an engine’s overall power, speed, altitude, and safety capabilities. Performance-wise, turboprops are generally more powerful and are able to fly at faster speeds than most piston engines. They also achieve higher altitudes, with their most efficient elevation being between 20,000 and 30,000 feet, while piston airplanes usually have a service ceiling of about 10,000 to 15,000 feet. Nevertheless, on high-performance aircraft, piston planes can easily match the power, speed, and altitude of their counterparts.

Safety: Finally, when considering the safety of the two aircraft, turboprop engines tend to be marginally safer. This is due as a result of having less moving parts that generate a heightened risk of component failure brought on by vibrational forces in piston airplanes.


When comparing turboprops and piston engines, turboprops tend to be more beneficial for larger aircraft, but piston engines excel for small engines on light aircraft. If you are in need of high-quality parts for your aircraft, Fasteners 3Sixty invites you to browse our inventory of components and make use of our Instant RFQ service to request competitive quotes for your comparisons. Our team of experts are available 24/7x365 to answer customer inquiries, meaning replies to RFQ forms will be returned in just 15 minutes or less!


August 9, 2022

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