Essentially all pilots begin flying with propeller aircraft powered by piston engines, rather than in turboprops or light jets, even though:

  • Operating a piston engine requires adjusting the mixture ratio, carburetor heating, ignition timing, and other such voodoo, whereas, with a turbine engine, you basically just turn on the ignition, press the START button, and you’re in business.
  • Jets and turboprops are orders of magnitude more reliable than piston engines, despite the latter’s decades-long head start in development; destructive failures of aircraft piston engines are much less common nowadays than in the 1940s and 1950s, when they were practically a once-a-flight occurrence, but piston engines still come up short compared to jets, most pilots of which go their entire careers without experiencing a single engine failure of any kind whatsoever.
  • And when a turbine engine does fail, it does so loudly and unmistakeably - none of those deadly invisible engine failures that killed off the market for piston-engined twinmotors, along with many thousands of their pilots.
  • In all but the coldest climates, jets and turboprops use Jet A (in the United States) or Jet A-1 (the rest of the world), two very similar kerosenes that are far safer to handle than the avgas burned in most piston engines (Jet A and A-1 have much lower vapour pressures, much higher flashpoints, and much slower flame spread rates than avgas, and, unlike avgas, are not full of tetraethyllead), and more widely available to boot; even in those extremely cold climates where the more enthusiastically flammable Jet B (a gasoline-kerosene blend) has to be used instead, it’s still safer than avgas.
  • Also, a turbine engine will run happily on avgas if the ground crew refuels it from the wrong container (jets are rightly famous for running on anything that flows and burns, as long as it doesn’t produce an exhaust containing refractory oxide particles), whereas accidentally fuelling a piston engine with jet fuel will cause it to blow its insides to bits just long enough after takeoff for you to now be over a residential subdivision or something similarly inconvenient for a forced landing.
  • Propellers come with their own complications; the propwash coming off the propeller and hitting the wings and tail creates nasty asymmetrical rolling and yawing tendencies, the pitch of most propellers has to be carefully managed (at least during ground operations, and sometimes in flight as well), and an even slightly nose-low landing, a gust from the wrong direction at the wrong moment, or a bump or pothole in the surface can easily cause an engine-destroying propstrike.

Given all this, why do pilots generally make their debut in piston-propeller aircraft, instead of in light jets or turboprops?


marked as duplicate by Pondlife, Dave, xxavier, Ralph J, Ben Jan 11 at 5:42

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    $\begingroup$ The only new point I see here is jet fuel vs avgas, and why nobody makes recipe engines that run on jet fuel is a good question but only marginally related to safety of trainers. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Jan 11 at 4:59
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    $\begingroup$ I marked this a dupe because even if all of your individual arguments are valid, there are other points that are even more important and those are mentioned in the other question. Everything you mentioned is about the technology, but the real issue is the pilot: a new pilot simply can't handle how quickly things happen - and how quickly they can go wrong! - in a jet. As a student pilot, I was regularly 'behind the aircraft' in a C152, I have no idea how what would have happened in an aircraft moving three or four times faster. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 11 at 6:02
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    $\begingroup$ "Operating a piston engine requires adjusting the mixture ratio, carburetor heating, ignition timing, and other such voodoo" Not necessarily. Certainly the Ikarus I'm flying is very forgiving in that manner, with little voodoo involved; electrics on, magnets on, choke if cold, press START, immediately verify oil pressure after engine start, and that's about it. Yes, it has selectable carb heating, but certainly outside of engine maintenance no need to worry about mixture or timing. Starting and flying that one is only slightly more involved than starting and driving a modern car. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 11 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ It would be very easy to design a jet powered version of the Cessna 152. It could have all the same forgiving slow speed characteristics.The only reason it hasn’t been done is money. NO ONE would buy a $2,000,000 trainer that cruises at 90 knots. $\endgroup$ – Mike Sowsun Jan 11 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ There's also the concept of not letting the airplane get ahead of you. Many pilots start training quite young - in the US, pilots can solo at 16 and be licensed at 17 in powered airplanes. That can be before they ge their drivers license even! Going lower and slower lets a new pilot get used to keeping up with airplane that goes faster than a car, offers quite a different view and is navigated differently, and at a higher rate of speed (3-4 times faster than a car - landing and take off are faster too), can bring in radio play depending on where learning is occurring, etc. And Weather! $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Jan 11 at 15:36

In a word, money. Have you priced time in a turboprop or light jet, vs time in a C152 or other piston trainer? Or actually buying one? You can pick up a decent used single for about the cost of a new car, while turboprop or jet is likely to start at half a million, and go up from there. And add maintenance costs to that.

Then there are a lot of pilots (I'm one) whose flying just doesn't include what a jet or turboprop is likely to be good at. I like to fly into short strips, often grass or dirt (and sometimes no strip at all e.g. dry lake beds). Is your jet or turboprop well suited for that?

Even for someone looking towards a career with the airlines, you can build a lot of the necessary time a lot cheaper in a single-engined prop plane. For instance, one of my flight instructors started doing that, getting paid plus lots of experience dealing with the mistakes of student pilots. Then he moved to a job flying a small cargo plane doing pickups for FedEx or someone like that, before getting enough hours to look at an airline job.


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