What is the difference of design between a propeller designed to be powered by the wind (i.e. those huge wind power turbine blades) and those designed to be used to propel a plane that are powered by an engine (i.e. a Cessna 172's props)?

(To be clear, I'm talking about one that is powered by the air vs one that powers through the air.)

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ In essence, nothing. If you took a propeller from an aircraft and attached it a low friction, high efficiency turbine generator (just as wind turbine blades are) it would act as a generator when placed into wind. The actual differences are related to the rotation speed, the need to vary pitch and the environments in which they are designed to operate. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Oct 1, 2014 at 14:41

4 Answers 4


Blades of wind turbines, airplanes and helicopters are essentially the same. They are all wings, roughly to do the same job. However, each one is designed or enhanced to do their special job. The differences can be:

  • Number of revolutions
  • Wing span
  • Rate of flow
  • Tip speed
  • Density of medium
  • Material
  • Load

Turbine blades are designed to move in large volumes of rather slow moving air (usually 10-30 mph, 16-50 km/h) and not create turbulence that fouls the next blade. Aircraft propellers are designed to move high velocity air and avoid the turbulence by moving out of the way.

Wind turbines use blade pitch to adjust the rotation speed and the generated power. Wind turbine's control system adjusts the blade pitch to keep the rotor speed within operating limits as the wind speed changes. In aircraft, blade pitch is usually described as "coarse" for a coarser angle, and "fine" for a finer.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You might want to add that the side of the airfoil with more curvature (normally called the upper side in case of a wing airfoil) points forward in propellers, but backward in impellers (wind turbines). $\endgroup$ Feb 24, 2015 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ Please check your answer regarding helis. Heli rotors need to be able to be used in an auto rotation and they therefore have a very unique design $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Jun 6, 2016 at 0:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You missed a fairly important criteria - pitching moment. Helicopter rotors need to have pitching moment of almost zero to prevent the blade from wanting to twist when lift is created. Tailless flying wings sometimes require airfoils with negative pitching moment for stability. $\endgroup$
    – slebetman
    Jun 6, 2016 at 3:25

The airfoil profile is also slightly different since, in the case of propellers, the goal is to push the air through. Therefore, the lift produced by the wing and felt by the shaft will produce torque that opposes the rotation. In the other case, the goal is extract energy from the flow going through the turbine. Thus, the lift force is in the opposite direction and helps the shaft rotation. Furthermore, more specific energy (as in per unit mass) can be extracted from the flow than injected into it. This is because, in turbines, the flow is going down the pressure gradient which has a stabilising effect. With a propeller, you're trying to push the flow through an adverse pressure gradient and this tends to enhance flow separation on your blades. Therefore, turbines tend to have higher loads and require thicker profiles.


Airplane propeller has blade angle almost perpendicular to the rotor axis. It normally ranged 0-15 degree. 0 degree will not produce any thrust. More than 15 degree will produce more drag, compare to the trust.

Wind propeller has blade angle almost parallel to the axis. 0 degree mean the blades adjusted exactly parallel to the rotation axis. 15 degree mean, has 15 degree "discrepancy" from the axis.

Angle of Attack (AoA) of propeller and wind turbines are seen from different perspective. AoA of a propeller is seen from the axis itself parallel to the blade. It is just how the bolt corrugation. Meanwhile the AoA of wind turbine blades is seen from the frontal site, parallel to the axis.

short thread/corrugation, smaller AoA longer thread/corrugation, bigger AoA

This two kinds of bold. The single one is reflecting the AoA of propeller. The corrugation almost perpendicular to the bolt (axis) itself. While the smaller bold in the second picture, showing longer pitch. The longer the pitch until almost parallel to bolt (axis) itself, the more suitable to the wind turbine blade.


There is a BIG difference. The curve of the blades is reversed. On a propellor, the leading edge is close to the propellor disk, with the flatter surface towards the rear. In a turbine, the leading edge points forward (into the wind), with the flatter surface also forward.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm a bit confused by your statements. Wouldn't the "leading edge" always "point forward"? If it didn't, it wouldn't be the "leading edge". Can you try a quick re-write to help clarify what you're trying to get across? Maybe include an image or two to show the difference. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Jun 6, 2016 at 16:25

You must log in to answer this question.

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