An aircraft engine provides the immense amount of power needed to propel a plane forward and help it overcome drag during flight. Although there are numerous engine types that vary greatly among aircraft types, they all share the common feature of taking up a large percentage of the total weight. Given their size and aerodynamic hindrance, engines must be placed at strategic spots along the aerostructure. In this blog, we will discuss the common engine mounting locations, while also discussing the rationale behind each choice.
The most common method of powerhouse installation is podding, which involves placing the engine in large pods which are integrated into the nacelle. This strategy provides several engineering benefits, including ease of access for maintenance personnel and prevention of wing flutter. Moreover, podding combats wing bending which is the upward force of lift that causes the wingtips to bend and deform over time. Acting as a counterforce, the significant engine weight dampens this effect.
A critical design feature to note is that the pod and engine are not directly attached to the wing, but instead are mounted on a sturdy pylon. This configuration provides space between the engine and wing which protects the airframe's structural integrity in the event of an engine fire. Although the pylons are explicitly designed to withstand the tremendous force associated with hard landings or turbulence, the connection bolts would still falter when exposed to extreme forces. While it may not seem intuitive to install fasteners designed to yield under such forces, this strategy prevents the wings from taking on an excess load.
Although early and experimental aircraft commonly incorporated engine elements directly into the wings, this positioning presents several issues. However, wing integration also introduces a safety issue concerning engine fires. With the podded configuration, the physical separation between elements prevents fire from spreading to the fuel storage area. Furthermore, the significant weight associated with modern turbofan engines would overwhelm the airframe.
Smaller aircraft, particularly those equipped with carbureted engines, tend to favor wing root mounting arrangements. With the motor closer to the plane's center of gravity, much less drag is produced when compared to the podded counterparts. In the event of an engine failure, this design variant permits lower asymmetric yaw, requiring less rudder control from the pilot. Despite these benefits, the wing root configuration only performs optimally for lighter engines and smaller aircraft.
A small minority of military and commercial aircraft implement a tail or rear-fuselage-mounted engine. Since the wings are free of heavy and spacious pods, engineers are generally more liberal with their design. As a result, these planes tend to feature more complex, aerodynamic airframes which save on fuel costs. The aft positioning also protects the engine from debris, since it sits closer to the body. However, a higher tail must be installed to support the immense weight at the back of the aircraft, leading to increased drag.
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