I have read about the operational differences between constant speed and fixed pitch propellers.

Being a World War II buff, I was reminded of reading once about both principles being used in period fighter planes, with the Germans preferring one and the British preferring the other, but that's about all that I can recall. (That might have been a solid 20 years since...)

So, my question is:

How would the above-mentioned "operational differences" apply to WWII-period warbirds specifically, and does anyone have links or pointers to relevant reading material?

I think a period warbird has a quite different set of requirements on its performance and handling characteristics, which is why I think this separate question is warranted.

I'm not so much interested in the fine technical details (I don't want to build / maintain / model one of those planes based on this information), but rather striving for a better understanding of the relative performance characteristics of those (IMHO) most beautiful planes of all time.

  • $\begingroup$ Didn't the Brits still have old biplanes when war broke out? I bet those had fixed pitch propellors. $\endgroup$
    – Koyovis
    Apr 29, 2017 at 1:57

1 Answer 1


When war broke out, almost all high-performance military planes on all sides had variable-pitch propellers. Not necessarily constant-speed types, but adjustable nontheless. There was no difference between German and British planes.

If there was a difference it was the use of manually-adjustable propeller pitch, which was widely used in German airplanes, versus constant-speed propellers, which found more use in British airplanes. However, both sides had both types of propellers in their fleet, so it is hard to make a generalization.

Operationally, the manual adjustment gives the pilot more control, but increases workload because the pitch has to be adjusted when flight speed changes. This was less burdensome in bombers, but in fighter aircraft a manual adjustment would keep the pilot busy during dogfights.

Early types of the aircraft involved did indeed use fixed-pitch propellers, like early versions of the Me-109 A and B or the Hawker Hurricane Mk.I. By 1939, both types had long since converted to variable-pitch propellers.

Older airplanes with fixed-pitch propellers were still used for training or liaison, but not near the front lines. Exceptions are aircraft like the Polikarpov Po-2 which was used for night attacks until the Korean war. It had such a limited speed range that a variable-pitch propeller would not had made sense.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Douglas Bader crashed a Spitfire in the spring of 1940 while attempting take-off, having inadvertently left the propeller pitch at the coarse setting (he suffered only slight injuries, though his prosthetic legs were crushed.) $\endgroup$
    – sdenham
    Apr 30, 2016 at 2:09

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