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I'm translating a documentary from Hungarian to English. There is a scene where the pilot of an aeroplane with a propeller is preparing for take-off.

He says (seemingly into a 2-way radio) two short sentences, literally: "Propeller pushing. Propeller free." Could anybody help me with info about what an English-speaking pilot would say in this situation. A million thanks in advance!

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  • $\begingroup$ I assume that the propeller isn't turning at that moment. Before the engine start we say something like "Propeller Area Clear" to make sure, nothing is near the propeller while starting the engines. "Propeller pushing" I don't know... $\endgroup$ – Pascal Ackermann Feb 7 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ You need to describe precisely what is happening and what the pilot is doing. If there is a video link of some kind that you can provide, like youtube or liveleak, where we can watch what's happening, that would make it pretty easy to figure out. $\endgroup$ – John K Feb 7 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ Visuals or description of visuals would help, but see this related post: Why do ground crews rotate a radial engine's propeller before a motor/cartridge start? $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Feb 7 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ @ymb1 If it's an AN-2 that would make a lot of sense. But you wouldn't get me doing an hydraulic lock check with someone sitting in the cockpit :0 $\endgroup$ – John K Feb 7 at 17:10
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If the engine is already started, and if this is a turboprop with a constant speed propeller, it is most likely that the pilot is performing a pitch control check. In this case the pilot would move the throttle into Beta, or reverse, which would momentarily cause the propeller to "push". After this he would come back to idle, where if the propeller control lever was set to fine pitch or max RPM, the prop would spin "free". The actual procedure and intercom voice calls will vary by aircraft and operator.

This answer presumes that he is not yelling out a window, or transmitting with aircraft callsign to a ground controller. A video clip showing where he is on the ground, whether the prop is turning, and what his hands are doing at the time of the calls would confirm this.

If it is difficult to post a clip here, just watch what his right hand is doing: If he appears to disengage a latch and pull the main power lever backwards, (you may hear an audible change in the engine sound as the propeller reverses pitch) and declares “propeller pushing”, then moves the lever back forward again and declares “propeller free” this would be pretty strong confirmation of my interpretation.

If that is the case, I might suggest a literal translation as you described in the question. If you know the exact make and model of aircraft you could maybe narrow down what an English speaking pilot would say instead, but the literal translation wouldn’t necessarily be wrong either.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a perfect answer, thanks a million. The prop is stationary when the pilot speaks, but then he immediately starts it up. Before this there is a faint whirring noise, but it is only when the props start spinning that any engine noise can be heard. No one is outside the plane. I believe that your professional analysis matches my layman’s guesses and I’m going to go for “Propeller pushing. Propeller free.” May all your flights take you to Cloud 9 and all your landings be happy ones! $\endgroup$ – Hal Asangol Feb 8 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ Just out of interest: The topic of the documentary is not flying, but “Grief”. The pilot featured operates so-called “aerial funerals” where he scatters the ashes of the deceased from a few hundred feet. Most of the footage is of him demonstrating the special apparatus on one of the wings of his plane (“...a tilting container that can be opened by remote control or the push of a button. When it opens, the direction we’re moving in and the slipstream produce dynamic pressure, which pushes the ashes and the flower petals out of the opening at the back.”). Then of course, we take to the skies... $\endgroup$ – Hal Asangol Feb 8 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ Or, in the case of the deceased, the heavens. $\endgroup$ – Hal Asangol Feb 8 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting, thanks. Actually though, from your description it sounds more like he is starting the engine rather than the Beta check I described. Still, I would probably just stick with a literal translation of the words and not try to read anything into his intent. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Feb 8 at 17:12
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If this is in the context of starting the engine we would usually say, out of a window

Clear prop!

To ensure anyone standing close by is aware there's about to be a big dangerous spinney-thing near them.

If he is actually speaking into the radio, he may well be requesting startup clearance from a ground controller. eg pilot of airgraft registered "G-ABCD" to fictitious airport at "Airplaneville":

Pilot: Airplaneville ground, G-ABCD, Request startup
ATC: G-ABCD, startup approved
Pilot: Startup approved, G-ABCD

Another possibility is that the aircraft is being "hand-cranked" (ie, started by spinning the propeller rather than an electric starter motor). In which case there are various procedures but this text below describes the kind of communication between the pilot and the starter:

The starter−who by tradition is in charge−sets chocks in front of the wheels. The pilot holds back the stick and sets the throttle roughly a quarter of an inch forward from fully closed. The starter calls, “Switches off, sucking in”. The pilot shows a ‘thumbs down’, indicating that the rear magnetos are earthed. The starter acknowledges by repeating, “Switches off, sucking in,” and pulls the propeller forwards through four blades. (Always bearing in mind that there may be an electrical fault and the engine might fire.) The starter then sets the propeller, calls, “Set and contact,” and observes the pilot moving up the rear switches on both magnetos (the starter can see the switches, which is why they’re outside). The pilot gives a thumbs up and repeats, “Contact”. The starter swings the propeller and the engine starts. After an interval to allow the engine to warm up, the pilot crosses his arms, which is the signal for the starter to remove the chocks. (pilotweb.aero)

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  • $\begingroup$ @ymb1 Thanks - the shame of forgetting to add my source. $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Feb 8 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your selflessness, time and expertise. I only wish there was as much action in the shot as you have described - the clip lasts for about 5 seconds and is only intended to make a transition from being on the ground to being in the air. As indicated in my comment to Michael Hall, I'm now happy with the solution to my problem. I am now a great deal wiser and promise not to bother you again. $\endgroup$ – Hal Asangol Feb 8 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ Ah the mod powers, tagging me without needing a prior comment ;) and no worries @Jamiec, you had already done the block quote ;) $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Feb 8 at 16:35

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