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Lister Petter Diesel Engine

Engine Performance, I

In a piston engine chemical energy is converted into heat energy by combustion and then into mechanical energy by the pistons to rotate the crankshaft. The expansion of the gases and heat produced by the combustion process causes an increase in cylinder pressure and this forces the piston down and finally rotating the propeller.

This process is more than one hundredth years old and generating mechanical power this way has not changed very much, even the efficiency of the piston engine has not improved by a whole lot in the same time period.

The power of an engine is a way of measuring the rate at which it is doing work in a certain amount of time.
On this page we dive into how force, work and power is developed and show you some action into engine efficiency (as nothing in this world is perfect)

This will involve some basic physics as we all used to learn at school. A small refresher heading your way below!

Some background

For a bit of understanding on how engines create power we need to revisit some basic physics we once learned but may have forgotten in years gone by.

Force, Work and Power

To get an object to change its speed or direction we need to act on that object with a force. The formula is: F = m x a, where m is mass and a is acceleration. Force is expressed in Newtons or kgm/s2.

Work is done when a force on a object causes it to move. So force over a distance equals work. In a formula: W = F x d, where f is force and d is distance. Work is expressed in Newton x meters, Nm. It is the same as Joule and used to be called ft/lb.

Power is simply the rate of doing work. Thus the amount of work in a certain time period. Formula: P = W / t, where W is work and t is time. Power is expressed in watts (W) and the equivalent of 1 Joule per second (J/s), engine power is expressed in kW and HP (horsepower) in the old system.


With rotating objects as our propeller we must use the RPM (rotational speed) or angular velocity instead of distance when using work. The work formula for torque (work) then becomes t = f x r, where f is force and r is radius. Rewritten to force the formula then becomes: f= t / r.

By definition, we know that linear distance = linear speed × time = radius × angular speed × time.
Power then results in: (force x linear distance) / time or after some conversions into torque x angular speed where angular (or rotational) speed is 2 π RPM with power in watts (W), torque in Nm and RPM in revolutions per minute.

After applying the conversion factor for imperial units (33,000 ft·lbf/min per horsepower) power (HP) finally becomes (torque x RPM) / 5252 because 33000 / 2π = 5252.11 or thereabouts.


Energy is the capacity to do work and it is expressed in Joules. One kg of gasoline or JET contains about 44 MJ, but as JET is denser it has more energy per liter. This explains the longer range a diesel engine powered aircraft has compared to an AVgas model with the same contents in the fuel tanks.

Measuring engine power

To determine the power an engine can deliver it is installed on a test bank and its torque is measured at certain RPMs and then converted to power. This method obtains brake horsepower, BHP. The engine itself produces somewhat more power as it must overcome internal friction, and using oil specified by the engine manufacturer will minimize this effect.

Internal friction is obtained by connecting an electric motor to the engine (at operating temps) and measuring the power required to rotate the engine. The viscosity of the engine oil, design of the engine, its RPM and the accessories all determine how much power lost to internal friction.

Rated power

This is normally expressed in a form like: 160 BHP at 2700 RPM. Rated altitude is the altitude where rated power is developed with full throttle, which will be at MSL for a normally aspirated engine and at a higher altitude if the engine is super- or turbocharged.

Engine efficiency

Efficiency is rate of energy in the fuel used and useful work done by the engine. Thus Brake Thermal Efficiency = Brake Power (joules/sec) / Fuel Consumption (joules/sec), or put differently: Brake Specific Fuel Consumption = Fuel Flow / Brake Power in kg/hr per watt, or lb/hr per BHP. AVgas (or gasoline) engines have efficiencies of about 20 - 30% where as diesels can run from 30% for light weight four stroke diesels and up to 50% for large two stroke marine diesels.

Volumetric efficiency

Another type of efficiency important to engines is volumetric efficiency. This relates to the volume of fuel/air the engine breathes in at the intake stroke. A normal aspirated engine pumps the mixture in by opening the intake valve combined with the downward motion of the piston. The design of the intake manifold and inertia of the mixture results in less mixture taken in than there is room for when the piston is at bottom dead center.

It can be defined as: volume of the charge / piston displacement and the highest volumetric efficiency is obtained with a full open throttle and open intake valve, good manifold design and cool inlet air (highest density). You will notice that this will coincide at the point where the engine creates its maximum torque.

Of course using a super- or turbocharger will help too as they will pump in more air/mixture into the combustion chamber overcoming some of the losses.

We can say that for an engine to achieve the best BSFC it must be run at high MAP, low RPM, be at full throttle height, mixture leaned and carburetor heat set to cold.

Written by EAI.

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