What Are The Main Types of Helicopter Power Systems?

Since the emergence of rotorcraft and helicopters, the diversity of aviation operations has been greatly increased due to the ability to hover, conduct vertical take off and landings, operate in confined spaces, and more. For the operation of helicopters, reciprocating and turbine engines may be used to drive the rotary blades and achieve heavier-than-air flight. As the components and capabilities of each engine vary, choosing the correct type for your helicopter often depends on the application and structural components of the vehicle. In this blog, we will discuss the main helicopter power systems, allowing you to have a better understanding of both powerplant types.

The reciprocating engine, also known as a piston engine, is one in which a series of pistons are attached to a rotating crankshaft. To operate the crankshaft, and thus the turbine blades, the pistons are thrust up and down through a back-and-forth stroke cycle. With the first lift of the piston, the component is drawn away from the cylinder head and an intake valve component opens so that a fuel and air mixture can enter the combustion chamber. With a subsequent downwards movement of the piston, the mixture is compressed with high amounts of force. Once the amount of compression reaches an optimal value, a spark plug is used to ignite the mixture, and the rapidly expanding gases cause the piston to launch upwards again. This quick and powerful motion of the piston is harnessed by the piston engine, allowing for the crankshaft to be rotated. Once the power is harnessed, the piston moves downwards once again to expel spent gases through an exhaust valve before restarting the cycle. In a typical reciprocating engine, hundreds of cycles can be conducted each minute, even at low speeds.

With a helicopter gas turbine engine, a compressor, combustion chamber, turbine, and gearbox assembly work together to provide optimal power for flight. With the compressor, filtered air is taken into the plenum chamber through an inlet, and the rotor compresses the air. The air is then brought into the combustion sector of the turbine engine where nozzles inject fuel to create a mixture before ignition. Once the fuel and air mixture is ignited, the rapidly expanding gases are quickly forced through turbine wheels which cause them to rapidly spin. By harnessing this rotational motion, the engine compressor and gearbox can be provided power. Power is then given to the main rotor and tail rotor system of the helicopter through the utilization of a freewheeling unit. Once the exhaust gas is used for driving various aerospace components, it is then expelled from the system through an exhaust valve.

While both engine types provide optimal combustion of fuel and air mixtures for flight, the decision of which is best for your particular application may take various considerations. Generally, gas turbine engine types are smoother and quieter in operation, and they typically provide more reliability and have a better power to weight ratio. Additionally, they have greater intervals for overhauling, and they consume less engine oil. Despite these advantages, they are much more expensive than typical piston engines, and they consume more fuel for their standard operation. As such, piston engines are mostly reserved for smaller helicopters, while turbine engine types serve larger helicopters well.

Whether you are looking to obtain a reciprocating or turbine engine for your helicopter, or simply need various helicopter engine parts for repair and replacement, the experts at Parts Needed Yesterday can help you secure everything you need with ease. We invite you to explore our ever-expanding part catalogues at your leisure, and you may begin the purchasing process at any time. If you would like to receive a personalized quote on parts that you are interested in, fill out and submit an Instant RFQ form as provided on our website and our team will review and respond to you in 15 minutes or less, 24/7x365.


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