I know that older planes must be hand started but are newer GA planes even able to be hand started by spinning the prop? If so, how do you do it safely without cutting your hands off or being pulled in by the propeller?

  • $\begingroup$ Why should it not work? If in doubt, have a look on youtube. Plenty of hand start videos there. $\endgroup$
    – bogl
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ How do you do it safely? The same way they did it safely 100 years ago - work quickly, work smart, and stay the heck out of the prop-disc area once you've given it a tug! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 16:03
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Specify what you mean by 'modern' and 'older'. It's possible to start a mid-60s Cherokee by hand-propping - I've done it several times. It's even possible to do it by yourself, when you're the only person at a remote strip, and discover your starter doesn't work any more. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 17:45

2 Answers 2


You sure can!

In reality the engines in modern prop planes are not all that different (in some cases even identical) to the engines of the hand crank days. The reason many older planes were hand crank was simply to save the weight toll of a starter motor and battery to drive the system. Some older aircraft have no active electronics (the piper cub comes to mind). Remember the engines magnetos drive the spark for the ignition system unlike in a car where the spark is driven by the electronic system. As long as proper precaution is taken its more than possible. The FAA even explicitly discusses it in their airplane flying handbook (p 2-13)

A spinning propeller can be lethal should it strike someone. Historically, when aircraft lacked electrical systems, it was necessary to “hand prop” an aircraft for starting. Hand propping an aircraft is a hazardous procedure when done perfectly. The consequences of not mitigating the hazards associated with hand propping can lead to serious injury, fatalities, and runaway airplanes. All alternatives must be considered prior to hand propping an aircraft and, when a decision is made to do so, the procedure must be carried out only by competent persons who have been trained to accomplish the procedure, understand how to mitigate the hazards, and take all the necessary precautions.

They also provide a pretty clear checklist on how to do it.

The procedure and commands for hand propping are:

• Person out front says, “GAS ON, SWITCH OFF, THROTTLE CLOSED, BRAKES SET.” 2-14

• Pilot seat occupant, after making sure the fuel is ON, mixture is RICH, magneto switch is OFF, throttle is CLOSED, and brakes are SET, says, “GAS ON, SWITCH OFF, THROTTLE CLOSED, BRAKES SET.”

• Person out front, after pulling the propeller through to prime the engine says, “BRAKES AND CONTACT.”

• Pilot seat occupant checks the brakes SET and turns the magnetos switch ON, then says, “BRAKES AND CONTACT.”

As far as i know, you can not hand start a turbo prop (which some GA planes have) due to the higher RPM needed for start.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note that the advice above and in fact most advice about hand-propping applies to direct drive engines where the propeller is bolted right to the crankshaft. Geared engines (Rotax probably being the ones most folks are familiar with) can be hand-propped, but they are generally not well suited to it. Also six cylinder engines or ones with 3-bladed propellers (or more) are generally considered to be a bit more of a chore to hand-prop. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 3:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Turbines can't be hand-propped not just due to higher RPM needed, but even more so due to continuous RPM needed. With piston engine, you just need is to push one cylinder through the compression, so quarter to half a turn is all you need, while a turbine needs to spin for a couple of seconds to build up the pressure. Also, in most turbines, the prop is actually not connected to the compressor at all. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 21:02

If so, how do you do it safely without cutting your hands off or being pulled in by the propeller?

The short answer is "very carefully."

A longer answer, and the way my father taught me to do it (but not necessarily how others might do it) when I was in my early teens was as follows:

  • Stand close enough to the propeller disk so that you're not leaning forward. The closer the better, but remember that if you're propping a taildragger the bottom of the disk is closer to you than the top. Beware if wearing clothing that has lot of loose fabric that might contact the propeller. The two times that my father was slightly injured was due to contact between the propeller and lose fabric when propping taildraggers.

  • Rotate the propeller with the switch off until the blade you'll be propping is at about the 10 o'clock position and just before a compression cycle, then switch on.

  • Place the palms of both hands on the blade about 85% of the way out from the center. The tips of your fingers should be at the trailing edge of the blade, but be careful not to wrap your fingers around that edge.

  • The next part was tricky but was necessary because both my father and I were small and light. It worked best for us if we swung our left leg (it may have been the right leg but I really can't remember since this was over 60 years ago) up into the propeller disk and then smoothly, briskly, and aggressively bring the propeller blade down while swinging the leg down and out of the way, continuing into a step away from the propeller.

Radial engines, because of their lower compression, were easier to prop than inline engines. However, I wasn't tall enough when young to handle their height.

The aircraft I hand propped the most as an adult was an 85 horse Continental on a J-3 floatplane. You started it on one mag, and that mag had a spark delay for starting that didn't fire until the bottom of compression rather than the top. You steadied yourself on the front of the right float with your left hand grasping the fuel tank filler cap and nozzle just in from of the windshield and propped with your right hand. Because you were propping from behind, you had to use your fingers over the blade trailing edge, but the spark delay obviated the danger of backfire.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Very good points. I've hand-propped Lycoming 180s many times, and this advice fits perfectly. I had no one to teach me in that much detail, but what you describe is the procedure that came natural to us. The only thing I would mention is that the first two or three compressions would not be that fast, so while one had to be careful to step away, the main care was to not fall back after the first step backwards, because by then the engine would be already running. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ My own experience, which I don't claim is the best way (and which wouldn't work well with floatplanes :-)) is that I stand to the left of the prop (facing the plane) with the prop at about 11 o'clock. Right arm outstretched, hand near the end of the prop, you move your whole body briskly to the left. That way you're always clear of the prop disk. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 19:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .