Would turbofan aircraft benefit from adjustable fan blades as do turboprops? Propeller aircraft adjust their propeller size, i.e. shorter propeller for cruising at maximum design altitudes where the air is thinner for efficiency, and a longer propeller where the air denser for increased thrust used for increasing altitude at early stages of flight. Would turbofans benefit from this when flying at maximum altitude for efficiency? If not why not?

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    $\begingroup$ "Propeller aircraft adjust their propeller size (...) shorter propeller for cruising at maximum design altitudes", They adjust their pitch angle, not their length. Is this what you mean? else can you provide an example of such variable blade-length propeller? There is a patent on that, but no application to aircraft propellers afaik. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Feb 4, 2018 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ I think the Rolls Royce Ultra Fan (in development) will feature a variable pitch fan. $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2018 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Cpt, NK-93 was such an engine, and was actually test flying in the 90s. In effect, it was a cross between a turboprop and turbofan. $\endgroup$
    – Zeus
    Feb 6, 2018 at 8:16

2 Answers 2


Both turboprops and turbofans want their blades to be as long as they can be, in all circumstances: that way the largest amount of air is accelerated, and a given amount of thrust created with the highest efficiency. It never pays to reduce the bypass ratio of a subsonic turbofan.

Turbofans with adjustable blade pitch would make sense though, like the constant speed propellers that turboprop engines already have. This article from Flight Magazine 1973 gives the advantages of a high bypass variable pitch turbofan:

  • Inherently low noise levels because of high bypass ratio and low fan tip speeds.
  • Rapid thrust response, allowing thrust modulation for accurate rate of descent control on the approach and maximum use of reverse thrust during the landing run.
  • Reverse thrust available without the weight or maintenance penalty associated with reversers and spoilers.
  • High ratio of take-off to cruise thrust well matched to the needs of short-range, Stol aircraft.
  • Good cycle efficiency and specific fuel consumption.
  • Wide engine operating margins.
  • Provides many of the advantages of the turboprop while avoiding vibration, ground and fuselage clearance problems and allowing better matching with higher cruise speeds.
  • $\begingroup$ Actually there are situations where you do want to adjust the bypass ratio of the engine, but these are supersonic fighter engines. E.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Electric_YF120 You wouldn't see that used in any commercial sub-sonic plane. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel K
    Feb 6, 2018 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ Yes you're right of course, have added the word "subsonic" $\endgroup$
    – Koyovis
    Feb 6, 2018 at 5:00

Assuming, that engineers would have solved the design problems of such a system and making it light and easy to maintain, this would greatly enhance that flexibility of a fan engine and possibly also increase efficiency.
It would give the designers one additional degree of freedom when designing an engine.

  • $\begingroup$ And add a lot of complexity (read points of failure.) Instead of balancing 2-5 blades, you would have 30-50 blades to adjust exactly the same. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Brass
    Feb 6, 2018 at 0:45

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