What Are the Differences Between Turboprop and Piston Engines?

When it comes to aircraft engines, turboprops and piston engines are the most common types. Apart from being a popular choice in the aviation industry, the other common factor between both is their use of propellers to generate thrust. Where turboprops use turbines spun by exhaust gasses to spin the propeller, piston engines utilize crankshaft rotation to achieve the same action.

While both power plants have unique qualities and deliver services to their best ability, it still instigates the question of which is better. Though turboprop engines are relatively new in the field compared to piston engines, they have offered their services for centuries. Henceforth we have curated a list in this blog to clarify their working operation and differences. Turboprop and piston engines are both air pumps that extract energy from combustion to drive propellers. Though they both do it differently, they follow the same processes, as with most engines: intake, compression, combustion, and exhaust.

How Do Piston Engines Work?

A piston engine has fixed cylinders and reciprocating pistons connected to a driveshaft for its up and down movement. Each stroke performs a specific task, from suction to the release of exhaust. A camshaft is included to control the inlet and outlet valve at the top of each cylinder. This is where the fuel/air mixture can enter the cylinder, be compressed to produce combustion, and be turned into exhaust after that. Turbochargers and superchargers are two of the most common ways to provide forced air circulation in an engine. They both work by increasing pressure, allowing engines to operate at higher altitudes that would otherwise be difficult to achieve. Additionally, turbochargers rely on exhaust gasses to operate, while superchargers use an engine's crankshaft.

How Do Turboprop Engines Work?

Turboprop engines are considered jet engines and operate differently than piston engines. They function by drawing air into the engine where it is compressed using a compressor. The compressed air is then mixed with fuel and simultaneously ignited  to create combustion. After that, a turbine is used to control exhaust expansion and drive propellers operating with gearboxes, and torque and combustion temperature are considered to measure the power output. Moreover, they are also considered reverse flow engines, which means that the intake air must reverse direction before entering into a compressor. The PT6A engine is a classic example of a reverse flow design.

Both turboprop and piston engines use propellers to generate thrust, but when it comes to generating power, turboprops can produce much more power than a piston engine. In addition, turboprops are usually more reliable and efficient than piston engines. As a robust component, this means that they can handle high-altitude flight easily. As far as performance goes, turboprops offer great efficiency at low altitudes, while gaining altitude until reaching their peak capabilities at an elevation up to 30,000 feet. In comparison, piston engines would struggle when pushed to climb in altitude. As such, the flying range of piston engines is between 12,000 to 15,000 feet.

In finality, turboprop engines are often larger, powerful, and faster than the piston-driven variety. However, piston engines are much more efficient for civil aviation flight, and less expensive to purchase and operate.


Significant factors are considered when constructing an aircraft and what engines they should use. Turboprops are a much better choice from an operational safety perspective, but each engine has its benefits and drawbacks depending on what kind of aircraft you are flying. If you are looking for a reliable source for aircraft parts, ASAP NSN Distribution is the most trusted distributor of aircraft parts. Feel free to contact us for any part-related query; we are available 24/7x365.


December 1, 2022

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