Photo Report – Power To The Masses! A photo run-through of some aircraft piston engines

By me
All photos me too

Undoubtedly one of the most important parts of any aircraft – gliders exempted 🙂 – the engine, a noisy and brutish mass of metal, is often overlooked and neglected by those not of a technical background. And who can blame them – the intangible mass of pipes, wires and often ugly casings and blocks looks best when not seen at all, hiding under often elaborately-shaped cowls. But despite their complete lack of visual elegance, engines  – pistons especially – remain quite interesting things. A gyrating, rotating and vibrating mass of steel that looks and sounds like it’s going to tear itself to pieces any minute, the piston engine – despite all its operating faults – retains a charm of sorts, a soul. Temperamental and often complicated, they still have that whiff of the golden age of aviation about them, when pilots didn’t simply flip a switch to START and then ON.

With that in mind, I’ve assembled a small collection of engine shots, taken during my prowling round Lučko. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the opportunity to photograph those of our two radial beauties, the I-3 and An-2 9A-DIZ, so this article will pretty much be an American Affair :).

1. How to ruin a perfectly good piston engine:

Apart from all the physical ways you could do this, American manufacturers have taken it one step further – admittedly reducing confusion in the process. Powerful-sounding names such as Merlin, Griffon, Sabre, Hercules, Wasp and the like were replaced by dull numerical codes such as R-2800, V-1510, TSIO-360, AEIO-540 and so on. However, there is some logic in it all and before we dive into the photos, it may be best to demystify this naming numerology.

This sequence of letters and numbers pretty much amounts to the engine’s ID card, listing virtually all the information necessary for the end operator/pilot. It is divided into three sections, which can be broken down as follows:

The engine type – the alphabet soup section, which gives some of the engine’s construction and equipment details. This includes the cylinder arrangement, ancilliaries such as turbochargers and inverted flight systems, as well as any other significant device. Some common ones are:

O – opposed (“boxer”) cylinder layout
R – radial
V – “V” arrangement

T – turbocharged
TS – turbosupercharged (an old term for “turbocharged”)
AE – aerobatic
I – fuel injected
G – geared
L – left-hand rotation, for twin-engined aircraft where one engine would rotate in the opposite direction to cancel out a number of adverse effects during a single engine failure

and so on. These can be combined together to list everything the engine is equipped with.

Cylinder displacement – the numbers. These show the displacement of all cylinders expressed in cubic inches. These are mostly standardized, with the common ones being 200, 360, 540 and 550. For us in the metric system, multiply this number by 16.387 to get the displacement in cubic centimeters.

The details – the last section which can be alphanumerical and lists random details such as for example crankshaft type, sub-version, a specific oil system and so on. There is no exact decode system for this, as it pretty much depends on the manufacturer’s internal coding preferences – and in any case is not relevant for the pilot.

In the end you end up with something like O-200-A, which would be a boxer engine displacing 200 cubic inches, in the A version. Similarly, the Beech Duke profiled here some time ago has two TSIO-540s, which are turbocharged and fuel injected boxers with a displacement of 540 cu in.  Another twin, the Piper Seneca, has one LTSIO-360, which is a left-hand rotation turbocharged injected boxer with a displacement of 360 cubic inches (the other is a “standard” TSIO-360). Aerobatic aircraft – the Zivko Edge 540 for example – may have an AEIO-540, an injected boxer with an inverted flight fuel and oil system, 540 cu in.

The other type codes, such as R and V are very rare nowadays, having gone out of widespread use with the demise of radial and V-block engine production in the years after WW2. Note that these codes apply to American engines, while other manufacturers use other designations. Rotax for example has the 800 and 900 series, Vedneyev has the legendary M-14 radial and Thielert has/had the Centurion. But since 90% of the engines to be shown here are American – or models built under license in Europe – I decided to concentrate predominantly on them.

2. Start dammit, start!

The engines chosen come in two basic varieties, the “four pop” for the smaller birds and the “six pack” for the heavy haulers – and we even have one two-stroke two-cyl! 🙂 These represent everything from a flexwing microlight to the Seneca twin, so we have plenty to choose from…

The tinyiest of the tiny, the two-stroke Rotax 582 developing 64 HP and powering the previously reviewed Apollo Racer GT microlight

The tinyiest of the tiny, the two-stroke Rotax 582 developing 64 HP and powering the previously reviewed Apollo Racer GT microlight

I must admit that my Rotax Spotting Skills are often short of the mark, but this looks like a 914, possibly 80 HP. Being mounted on a gyrocopter, this seems about right...

I must admit that my Rotax Spotting Skills are often short of the mark, but this looks like a 914, possibly 80 HP. Being mounted on a gyrocopter, that seems about right...

The Cessna 150's immortal 100 HP Continental O-200-A :). Powering generations of pilots on their first flights, the O-200 has also been licence-built by Rolls-Royce (though these tend to be rare-ish nowadays - I've only ever seen two)

The Cessna 150's immortal 100 HP Continental O-200-A :). Powering generations of pilots on their first flights, the O-200 has also been license-built by Rolls-Royce (though these tend to be rare-ish nowadays - I've only ever seen two)

Progressing upwards is the Super Cub's most common engine, the 150 HP Lycoming O-320. Some versions - most notably those used in mountaneous areas such as the Alps - have been uprated to 180 HP, a pretty chunky amount of power for the light and "lifty" Super Cub

Progressing upwards is the Super Cub's most common engine, the 150 HP Lycoming O-320. Some versions - most notably those used in mountainous areas such as the Alps - have been uprated to 180 HP, a pretty chunky amount of power for the light and "lifty" Super Cub

On par with the O-200 is the Cessna Skyhawk's 160 HP Lycoming O-360. Just one in a long line of engines that have powered the 172, the O-360 had replaced the earlier six-cyl 145 HP O-300 and the 160 HP "four pop" O-320, to be in turn replaced by the direct injection IO-360s of today's 172R (160 HP) and 172SP (180 HP)

On par with the O-200 is the Cessna Skyhawk's 160 HP Lycoming O-360. Just one in a long line of engines that have powered the 172, the O-360 had replaced the earlier six-cyl 145 HP O-300 and the 160 HP "four pop" O-320, to be in turn replaced by the fuel injected IO-360s of today's 172R (160 HP) and 172SP (180 HP)

The most powerful four-cyl to be featured here is the Cardinal RG's 200 HP Lycoming O-360. A development of the 172's O-360, it had first developed 180 HP for the fixed-gear Cardinals and finally uprated to cater for the RG model's increased weight

The most powerful four-cyl to be featured here is the Cardinal RG's 200 HP Lycoming O-360. A development of the 172's O-360, it had first developed 180 HP for the fixed-gear Cardinals and finally uprated to cater for the RG model's increased weight

The first six-cyl here belongs to the Reims FR172 Rocket, the most powerful Skyhawk development so far (the earlier F model is pictured here). A Continental direct injection IO-360, it has the same capacity of the four-cyl model - and, as far as I've been able to find out, uses the same cylinders with a shorter piston travel. Interestingly, the air intake and its filter are right on top of the engine, an unique solution that prevents intake ice at the cost of some performance

The first six-cyl here belongs to the Reims FR172 Rocket, the most powerful Skyhawk development so far (the earlier F model is pictured here). A Continental IO-360, it has the same capacity of the four-cyl model - and, as far as I've been able to find out, uses the same cylinders with a shorter piston travel. Interestingly, the air intake and its filter are right on top of the engine, an unique solution that prevents intake ice at the cost of some performance

A very similar - but turbocharged - TSIO-360 powering the Piper Seneca with its 220 HP continuous. Has a big air filter this thing...

A very similar - but turbocharged - TSIO-360 powering the Piper Seneca with its 220 HP continuous. Has a big air filter this thing...

A numerical oddity is the Aero-3's Lycoming O-435-A, developing 195 HP from six cylinders. Another interesting solution can be seen here - the exhaust pipes all lead into a "muffling chaber", where outside air - fed by the pipe extending from the front of the cowl - is apprently mixed with the exhaust to reduce noise levels

A numerical oddity is the Aero-3's Lycoming O-435-A, developing 195 HP from six cylinders. Another interesting solution can be seen here - the exhaust pipes all lead to a "muffling chamber", where outside air - fed by the pipe extending from the front of the cowl - is apparently mixed with the exhaust to reduce noise levels

All alone with no plane to power - yet - is our Skywagon's IO-520-D, putting out 270-300 HP (not exactly sure with this specific engine). Seen dismounted after a prologned service after a propstrike

All alone with no plane to power - yet - is our Skywagon's IO-520-D, putting out 270-300 HP (not exactly sure with this specific engine). Seen dismounted after a prolonged service following a propstrike

And finally the "big guns" - the whopping large (as far as these thing go nowadays) Continental IO-550, developing 300 HP in the Beech A36 Bonanza. To put it into perspective, 500 cu in is about 9 liters, which is truck engine range :)

And finally the "big guns" - the whopping large (as far as these things go nowadays) Continental IO-550, developing 300 HP in the Beech A36 Bonanza. To put it into perspective, 550 cu in is about 9 liters, which is truck engine range 🙂

And here’s hoping this will soon be updated with some radial action, as well as – keeping my fingers crossed – the monstrous 385 HP TIO-540 powering our local Cessna Pressurized Centurion :).

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