Turbocharging and Pressurization: Pros and Cons

Think of a turbocharged airplane engine as taking a big deep breath. More air in a piston engine equals more power in the sky and this is exactly what a turbocharged engine offers a pilot equipped with a little extra torq under its wing. See below for a look at pressurized and unpressurized airplane construction and their benefits and drawbacks.

One pro that a turbocharged engine offers is the ability to avoid airframe icing. Flying either below the freezing level or above where icing isn’t a problem, can save an airplane from possible malfunction and structural damage. In addition, a turbocharged airplane engine’s elevated flight capability gives a pilot a keen visual perspective of the sky ahead, making circumnavigating weather conditions and working with air flow all the easier. Turbocharged engines are powerful and with this power, a plane can more easily get off the ground. Where a normal airplane engine would need a long runway to get in the sky, a turbocharged plane can take off faster and achieve flight with less runway space. Intercooling systems can be installed that help turbocharged engines breathe cooler air and improve detonation margins, lower Cylinder Head Temperatures (CHTs), and increase efficiency during long flight times.

The most cited disadvantage of a turbocharged engine is its Time Between Overhauls (TBO) or the hours of flight allowed before inspection and repair to the engine is required. A normal aircraft engine has a TBO of 1700 hours. A turbocharged aircraft engine has a slightly less TBO of 1400 hours. Currently, the normal aircraft engine cost of flight is between $100-$150 per hour. Flying a turbocharged engine will cost $10 more per hour per engine. Less fuel-efficient, but a skilled pilot who does not abuse the throttle can close fuel cost margins quite significantly.


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