The choice of a propeller for your RV is one that’s almost as personal as the paint scheme and choice of engine. Not many parts of the airplane have as significant an impact on appearance and performance as the prop. It’s also an area of discussion and debate that often brings out a variety of opinions from builders and owners. Those opinions are quite colored by the specific brand or model of propeller the speaker is familiar with or owns. So, what’s important in determining which propeller you should choose?
Start with two things in mind: First of all, you need to be sure to consider your specific mission and needs. Second, more expensive is not always better. And third, what defines “better” depends on your mission and needs. Starting to see how this works?
Historically, RVs frequently used wooden fixed-pitch propellers. These are available direct from the manufacturer (a partial list is included in the Builders Manual) and have given excellent service. They’re light, reasonably priced and run smooth. They also offer a measure of protection to the engine in the unlikely event of a prop strike: the prop shatters, but usually leaves the much more expensive engine unhurt. However, wooden propellers require continuous attention to bolt torque and blade condition. They are also prone to damage if flown in rain or operated on gravel surfaces.
Fixed-pitch metal and composite propellers
To overcome many of the drawbacks of wood props, builders developed an interest in fixed-pitch metal propellers. In more recent years we’ve seen a number of composite fixed-pitch designs come to the market, and they can be quite nice. Quite some time ago, Van’s recommended against the use of metal fixed-pitch props because there was no metal prop that could be re-pitched to handle the speed of an RV without also exceeding the twist or pitch limits established by the manufacturer. Several accidents in high-speed homebuilts were traced to propeller blade failure in re-pitched metal props. To help alleviate this problem, Sensenich Propeller Company has designed a series of fixed-pitch metal props specifically for high-speed homebuilts like the RV. They’ve also designed composite fixed-pitch propellers, and as have several other manufacturers. On the positive side, a fixed-pitch metal or composite prop can be quite efficient and require relatively little maintenance. On the other hand, they are more expensive than a simple wood prop.
More and more airplanes are being equipped with constant-speed propellers. With a constant-speed prop, the engine is able to develop full power during take-off and climb, increasing performance considerably. Cruise speed typically increases only slightly, but fuel efficiency can be markedly improved. There’s no doubt that a constant-speed prop is more efficient and flexible than a fixed pitch, but the benefits are balanced by significantly greater expense and complexity. You’ll find both metal and composite constant-speed propellers available from a number of reputable manufacturers. Metal blades offer a tough, lower maintenance option while composite models can help to significantly reduce the weight of the propeller, although more often than not exchanging the weight for a higher price.
Note that propeller weight is a critical item to consider and plan for when making the choice of which prop you should install on your RV. The wide range of weights of the prop and related components must be considered in the overall weight and balance calculations you make not only before flying but also while planning your overall equipment package during the project. It is possible to end up with an airplane that is too nose heavy or too tail heavy if one does not plan appropriately.
Choosing a propeller – as is the case with many decisions in aviation – is a series of compromises. The “correct” prop depends on your mission and other factors such as weight and balance, overall weight, and the performance traits you wish to achieve.
Buying a propeller from Van’s
Van’s sells a number of propellers, both fixed-pitch and constant-speed, at competitive prices. You can check the latest available models and prices, plus you can also fill out and submit the online order forms for our propeller options on the Orders page.
Additional options related to propellers and accessories can also be found in our online store.
Van’s Propeller/Engine bundle pricing
If an Experimental Lycoming engine and new propeller are ordered from Van’s at the same time, we offer a special “package” discount on the combination. It’s a great way to save as much as $1,000.00 – so be sure to indicate on your order form your desire to get that discount. Our Kits team will communicate with you about your discounted price. In order to take advantage of this special package deal, the following must be true:
- You’re ordering a new engine through Van’s
- That engine is being installed on an RV you are building, you (or someone else) have not ordered another engine for that same airplane before, and the Van’s team reviews and approves the bundled price purchase
- At the same time, and as part of the same order, you order a new propeller from Van’s from the list of eligible propellers
- The propeller you’re ordering is being installed on the same aircraft as the engine being ordered in conjunction with the propeller
Feel free to call us with any questions. The online order forms for Lycoming engines and the propellers sold by Van’s are available on the Order page.