Written by A.G. "Andy" Lennon
Match a model’s performance to a pilot’s skill level
How to Do It
As seen in the June 2007 issue of Model Aviation.
Altitude: Air density reduces with altitude. This is reflected in the constant number in the thrust formula.
Altitude (Feet)  Constant 
Sea Level  0.000011127 
1,000  0.000010806 
2,000  0.000010490 
3,000  0.000010182 
4,000  0.000009881 
5,000  0.000009581 
6,000  0.000009301 
ARF: Almost ready to fly.
BHP: Brake horsepower.
CID: Cubic inch displacement.
mph: Miles per hour.
PLF: Propeller Load Factor (diameter2 x pitch).
PL: Power loading (ounces of model weight per cubic inch of displacement).
rpm: Revolutions per minute.
Stability: A model’s ability to return to level flight after a gust or when controls are centered.
Torque: Turning force in inchounce.
Trim: Adjust controls for level flight.
TWR: Thrusttoweight ratio (measured in percentage).
Wing area: Constant chordchord x span (in inches)
Tapered(Root Chord + Tip Chord) x Span ÷ 2
Divide square inches by 144 to get square feet.
Wing loading: Ounces of model weight divided by the wing area in
square feet. The result is ounces per square foot of area.
Matchmaking proposes a logical engineering approach to selecting a model, engine, and propeller, and the combination’s performance and flying characteristics will be a match for the pilot’s flyingskill level—or for a beginner with no flying skills at all.
This article includes simple formulas involving publicschool arithmetic that are easy to solve on an inexpensive pocket calculator. It needs to be the “scientific” type, which has square (x2) and square root (√) buttons.
The article is divided into sections that cover the model, the engine, estimating thrust, selecting a propeller, and information sources. It is aimed toward the beginner but contains information that will be of interest to the expert.
The Model: A beginner needs a stable, relatively slowflying airplane that virtually flies itself and has limited aerobatic capabilities. Its basic specifications include a .40size engine, a 700 to 800squareinch wing area, and a wing loading that does not exceed 20 ounces per square foot of wing area.
This aircraft’s airframe will have high drag from an exposed engine and large wheels on its tricycle landing gear, which will allow for a steeper glide slope that makes judging landing approaches easier.
It will have full proportional control of the ailerons, elevators, rudder, and throttle. The student is well advised to join a local RC flying club. Most have experienced pilots who instruct. They will check the model for the correct CG location, fully charged batteries, a fueled tank, and correctly functioning controls.
The instructors will start the engine and adjust the needle valve for high rpm and idle, and then testfly and trim the airplane for level flight. They will stand by the novice as he or she flies the model, and they will be ready to take control if problems arise until the beginner has developed adequate skills to fly alone.
The expert flier wants high power in relation to his or her model’s weight, to pull the airplane easily and smoothly through maneuvers that include sustained vertical climbs. The aircraft must have relaxed stability for good aerobatics, and high wing loadings with fast takeoffs and landings are no problem for this pilot.
Popular models for the expert are scale versions of aerobatic monoplanes and biplanes, such as the Extra 300 and the Ultimate biplane. RC Aerobatics pilots fall into this category.
The rest of us fliers fall somewhere in between the beginner and expert classifications. Table 1 provides suggested parameters for all three classes of pilots.
Class  Speed (mph)  Wing Loading (ounces/square foot)  PL (ounces/CID) TwoStroke 
PL (ounces/CID) FourStroke 
Expert  100125  2535  100200  90180 
Intermediate  80100  2025  200250  180225 
Beginner  6080  1520  250300  225270 
Power loading (PL) is a convenient way to relate weight to power for comparison purposes. A model that weighs 92 ounces and is powered by a .46 twostroke engine would have a PL of:
92 ÷ .46 = 200 ounces/CID
A 175ounce model powered by a l.20 CID engine has a PL of:
175 ÷ 1.20 = 145 ounces/CID
To select an engine’s displacement requires the model’s weight and the PL to be selected. The formula is:
Model Weight (ounces) ÷ PL (ounces/CID) = Engine CID
For a model that weighs 100 ounces and has a PL of 250 ounces/CID:
100 ÷ 250 = .40 CID engine
In my experience a twostroke PL of 200 ounces/CID permits a sustained vertical climb to almost outofsight altitude.
The Engine: The power of an engine is expressed in two ways: torque and/or brake horsepower—both at specific rpm.
Torque is the elemental force that rotates the propeller. To obtain the maximum thrust, the propeller’s diameter and pitch should load the engine to an rpm of the highest torque.
Figure 2a illustrates the output of a .61 CID engine, which is an excellent sport power plant. The torque curve is almost level, peaking at 10,500 rpm. This engine can effectively rotate a wide range of propeller diameters and pitches: large diameter and low pitch for slowspeed flight or smaller diameter and larger pitch for faster speed.
Sport engines operate in a 6,000 13,000 rpm range. The large engines develop their maximum torque at the lower rpm.
Brake horsepower is a calculated figure. It is:
Torque (inchounce) x rpm ÷ a constant number (engine expert Dave Gierke uses 1,008,000).
Increases in either (or both) torque and rpm will result in an increase in horsepower. The rpm figure is increased by using small propellers with low pitch, which reduce the load on the engine. These propellers are too small for practical sportmodel flying.
Some engine manufacturers have adapted racingengine technology to their powerplant designs. That moves the peak of the torque curve closer to peak rpm, further inflating the horsepower output, but to the detriment of torque in the sport rpm range. See Figure 3.
The automotive people are more candid. They advertise horsepower and torque, such as “200 horsepower at 6,000 rpm = 275 footpounds of torque at 4,400 rpm.” Ads in model aviation magazines quoting “1.6 horsepower at 16,000 rpm” have little significance for practical propeller selection. Torque is the figure to use.
Model engines fall into the three following groups.
1) The engine has had a review published that provides the horsepower and torque curves along with a tabulation of rpm for a range of suitable propeller diameters and pitches for that engine. Figure 2 (a and b) is typical.
2) The engine has been reviewed, but only the tabulation of propeller rpm is quoted.
3) The engine has not been reviewed.
APC Propeller Diameter x Pitch 
rpm  Thrust (ounces/second) 
Speed (mph) 
11 x 7  13,400  126  110 
12 x 6>  13,400  115  82 
12 x 8  10,500  134  95 
12 x 6  10,100  133  80 
Thrust Estimating: A propeller rotating at high rpm blasts a column of air backward. The equal and opposite reaction (Newton’s third law of motion) propels the airplane forward.
The air coming off the propeller has volume weight and velocity. Air weighs 1.22416 ounces/cubic foot at sea level. It is possible to calculate the weight of this air blast, providing thrust/second. I have developed a simplified formula for thrust estimating. It is:
Diameter2 (inches) x nominal pitch x static rpm x .000011127 = thrust in ounces/second at sea level (See altitude definition for modified constants for high altitudes where air weight is lower.)
A 10inchdiameter, 9inchpitch propeller turning at 12,000 rpm would have a thrust/second of:
102 x 9 x 12,000 x .000011127 = 120 ounces/second
Knowing the model’s weight and the thrust/second, it is possible to determine the thrusttoweight ratio (TWR), measured in percentage. A 92ounce model (my Swift) with a thrust of 120 ounces/second has a TWR of:
120 x 100 ÷ 92 = 130%
Figure 1 estimates the model’s speed using the propeller’s nominal pitch and rpm. The TWRs are calculated for 14 models’ performances I have observed many times.
It was concluded empirically that the TWR is proportional to the angle of climb the model can sustain indefinitely. See Table 2.
Class  TWR  Performances 
Expert  110% and up  Sustained vertical climb, high maneuverability 
Intermediate  85 to 110%  Sustained steep climb, good maneuverability 
Trainer  65 to 85%  Modest climb, low maneuverability 
GlowPowered Glider  25 to 65%  Shallow climb, poor maneuverability 
TWR percentages are a more accurate appraisal than PL because engines with the same CID but different manufacturers are not equally powerful.
If you have an engine and are seeking a model for it to power, the TWR may be used. Assuming a thrust of 134 ounces/second:
TWR  Model Weight (Ounces) 
125%  107 
100%  134 
75%  178 
50%  268 
The formula is:
Thrust/Second ÷ TWR = Model Weight
That torque should be used for propeller selection. Consider the MDS .46 engine. Table 3 tells the story.
Propeller (Diameter x Pitch) 
rpm  Thrust (ounce/second) 
Model Speed (mph) 
TWR (100ounce model) 

Max Torque  10 x 9  10,710  107  110  107% 
Max Horsepower  9 x 4  18,000  65  80  65% 
Propeller Selection: The objective is to select a propeller with a diameter and pitch that loads the engine to or close to its peak torque and propels the model, in level flight, at the preselected speed. The procedure is different in each of the three engine groups I listed previously.
Group 1) Brake horsepower, torque curves, and rpm table available.
Refer to Figure 2 a and b. Propeller selection is easy. The maximum torque is 10,500 rpm. The rpm table shows that a 12 x 8 APC propeller turns at 10,500 rpm.
However, at 8inch pitch and 10,500 rpm, Figure 1 indicates a speed of 95 mph. This is too fast for our pilot; he or she wants 70 mph.
Referring to Figure 1 again, a 6inch pitch at 10,500 rpm gives 70 mph.
To determine the propeller diameter with a 6inch pitch that will provide the same load as the 12 x 8, see Figure 4. It is based on Dave Gierke’s Propeller Load Factor (PLF) of Diameter2 x Pitch = PLF.
Applying this to the 12 x 8 propeller produces a PLF of 1,152. For the 14 x 6 the PLF is 1,176, which is close enough for all practical purposes.
If the expert pilot requires a higher speed than 95 mph, he or she will follow the same procedure, but select a higher pitch, at the same rpm (10,500) that will give the required speed and use the formula to obtain diameter.
Group 2) Only rpm table available.
Refer to Figure 2b: the table of rpm for a .61 engine, calculated thrust, and speed. The 12 x 8 gives the most thrust, but notice how close the others are in thrust and note the speeds. For our pilot who wants 70 mph, proceed as in Group 1 to obtain pitch + diameter with a PLF that is close to that of the 12 x 8 propeller.
Group 3: No published review.
Unless you have a friend, with the same engine, who can be persuaded to develop an rpm table (Figure 2b) for suitable propellers, the only thing to do is obtain the engine and benchtest it to develop an rpm table specifically for that engine—after carefully breaking in the new engine.
Then proceed as for Group 2, calculate thrust/second, and estimate speed from Figure 1. Select the propeller that produces the highest thrust. It will be close to the engine’s peak torque. Modify the diameter and pitch to obtain the selected level flight speed, as detailed in Group 1.
Information Sources: To assist the beginner in the selection process, following are sources of information.
• Engine, kit, or ARF reviews in model aviation magazines.
• Catalogs from distributors such as Tower Hobbies. They contain a wealth of information about models, engines, propellers, and hundreds of accessories.
• Dave Gierke’s thorough and comprehensive engine evaluations published in Model Airplane News: “.40 Engine Shoot Out” in the March 2001 issue and “We Test 10 .60 Engines” in the May 2003 issue.
Thanks to friend and fellow author Dave Gierke; his work made a major contribution to this article.
Happy Landings!
A.G. Lennon
487 Oakville Rd.
DollarddesOrmeaux
Quebec, Canada
H9G1M1