So, I was thinking about how drones work, and I can't figure out how drones with propellers at the rear of the drone can still go forward. I'm not that experienced in aviation so if this is a basic question, I just didn't know the answer.

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    $\begingroup$ It's call a pusher propeller configuration. I'll it to the experts to answer authoritatively, but as long as the blade is curved in the right direction it will still propel air backwards and the plane forwards. Related question. Boeing even had a prototype 7J7 in the early '90's (video) $\endgroup$
    – Ian W
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting corollary ... propellers on boats and submersibles perform the same function as a propeller in a plane. Yet, you don't hear people asking why are there no boats with propellers at the front, like in a plane ?! $\endgroup$
    – Ian W
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ In addition to all the excellent answers and comments from people who know a lot more than me... the simple answer is yes. The propeller just has to spin the other way. (Or have its blades twisted in the opposite sense.) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ Please note, that the direction in which the propeller is moving the airplane is not defined by where it is placed, but why which direction it is rotating in, (and how the blades are angled). $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ @ DarthVlader You don't need any changes to the propeller. They may be called pusher propellers but they are more accurately called left-handed propellers. This naming is more related to the conventions associated with the direction of rotation for an engine (usually CCW when facing the engine shaft) when you take an engine and turn it around to face backwards. It's nothing inherent to the propeller aerodynamics. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 23:40

5 Answers 5


Yes, in fact airplanes with pusher propellers were flying before those with tractor propellers:

Wright Flyer

Photo Credit: Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine

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    $\begingroup$ Since our intrepid OP seems rather new to aviation, I'll note that this is one of the original Wright Flyers. The first heavier-than-air craft to make sustained, controlled flight. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ It may also be worth noting that the front of the above aircraft is at the left of the photo. The elevator was at the front of the aircraft, and the propellers were at the back. The person is laying forward with their head pointing in the direction of flight. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @GregHewgill Can't imagine there are that many planes where the pilot faces backwards to the direction of flight. Maybe rear gunners on some military planes, but they're not the pilots. (I also know the person who controls the midair refueling boom on tanker planes is sometimes called a pilot, but they're not the pilot.) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 16:40

Your Question: Can you put a propeller on the back of a plane, and have it go forward?

Yes, there are several airplane types that have rear engines. Here is an example:

Cessna 337:Cessna 337 Source: https://www.flyingbulls.at/en/fleet/cessna-337-skymaster-push-pull

Here is another example: Piaggio P.180 Avanti

enter image description here

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piaggio_P.180_Avanti

And another example: Convair B-36 Peacemaker

enter image description here

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convair_B-36_Peacemaker#/media/File:Convair_B-36_Peacemaker.jpg

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    $\begingroup$ Note that the Cessna 337 has both a pusher and a puller propellor. This is a clever setup to breate a twin engine plane that has center line thrust. This improves safety because it causes no significant change in handling (the airplane is not twisting/yawing to one side) and does not degrade performance (by forcing you to use lots of rudder to correct the yaw; that isn't free and comes from total thrust). $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 2:20

There are actually some planes that have this setup. Majority of prop driven airplanes use the pulling method, in which the propeller acts like a airfoil (wing) and the propeller itself generates lift which pulls the plane forward. This is also known as the tractor configuration.

enter image description here

But in this case you are talking about a pusher configuration. There are a few planes which have this configuration As seen below.

enter image description here

The Pusher configuration actually works just the same way as the tractor configuration. So the drone that you are referring to works no different from normal planes.

This website talks more about how propellers work. How propellers work

And this link talks about some of differences and pros and cons Pusher versus pulling propeller

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    $\begingroup$ Pusher's nose fins and fans reminds me of the famed Brabham "fan car" of 1978 tracksidelegends.com/articles/brabham-f1-fan-car-BT46B though in the latter case the fan was for enhancing ground-effect of air under the car rather than thrust forward. $\endgroup$
    – Trunk
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Trunk, that car is very interesting!!!! $\endgroup$
    – Boeing787
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Trunk For another non-flying example, think of airboats, which are propelled by a large fan at the back. Come to think of it, most powered boats and ships have the propeller(s) at the back, though unlike airboats, they're usually underwater. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Trunk Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2J predates that car by at least 7 years. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaparral_Cars?wprov=sfti1 $\endgroup$
    – Eric S
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah. It was nice piece of idea borrowing by Murray. Though at the time no one in F1 said anything other than it being another devilishly clever idea from the ZA genius. $\endgroup$
    – Trunk
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 21:10

To answer the question in your text (instead of the title):

Suppose you bought a used single-engine airplane with the propeller on the nose and fixed it up. Imagine starting up the engine, the prop spinning, blowing air backward, pulling the plane forward.

Now imagine you have bought the wrong engine. When you start it up, it runs in reverse, the prop spinning in the other direction. What happens? The prop blows air forward, pushing the plane backward.

Obviously this is useless as the plane is not designed to fly backward. You can't even taxi straight.

So you disconnect the plane from the engine, keeping the engine where it is, turn the plane around, and attach the tail to the engine. Now the engine and the plane agree about which direction they should go. You have invented the pusher prop.

Of course, if you want to get the thing to actually fly, you're going to make a lot of changes -- but none of those changes will involve changing the direction the engine is spinning, or changing the direction the plane is pointing.

Instead of spending years of wind tunnel and dangerous flight testing, you can steal plagiarize copy most of those changes from other inventors. You want to look at the Rutan LongEZ, the Anderson Greenwood AG-14, and the Cessna 337 Skymaster, for example.

In every case, the engine is stuck onto the wrong end of the airplane, but that's OK, because the engine spins the wrong way.


EDIT: To help the OP better grasp the concept of how it's possible to put propellers on the back of a plane and help them grasp the concept of how drones with propellers on the back work, it may help just as an initial frame of reference to think of the placement of the propellers on planes as operating similarly, in basic principle, to the main two types of vehicles and cars on the road with regard to those that are driven using front-wheel drive versus rear-wheel drive driven vehicle.

Whereas most modern vehicles in the Western part of the world utilize a front-wheel drive setup that involves having the engine usually being installed in the front of the vehicle and is used to spin the front wheels, whereas the spinning force of the wheels pull the car forward.

Conversely, in a rear-wheel drive model vehicle, the engine is usually found in the back of the vehicle and otherwise is used to spin the rear wheel tires to push the car forward.

Both constructs have their advantages and disadvantages similarly to planes with those designed to have propellers in the front and those designed to have propellers in the back.

The propellers themselves play almost the same exact roles as the wheels on a car where power from the motor engine is used to rotate the propellers which exerts the necessary force of momentum to move forward. In this case, spinning the propeller blades force air to move in a particular direction that is generally coming out from "behind" or "under" the propellers if you looked at them from a top-down view. Others have answeres with links above to learn more about how propeller works but hopefully that helps remove any confusion that may have prevented an better understanding.

Edit Notes
In previous posts, everyone provided great answers already explaining the difference in propeller systems and it was only in realizing how I had misperceived the reference to drones that I realized, maybe the OP has reached the same level of understanding that might seem like second nature to others and before diving in to the details of the physics and technical explanations on how propellers work, I thought it might help the OP better grasp the general concept and ideas rather than what was previously suggested and written below, but otherwise the above edit was added while below is kept simply for posterity.

Although I would've elected to post this as a comment and an answer has already been marked, I don't have the reputation in this community to do so, but to address where your question stems from, with regards to how drones can be propelled forward, they often use propellers differently than your typical airplane. How they use their propellers, or how drones with propellers at the rear of the drone can still go forward, would be better imagined as being similar to how a helicopter can still move forward.

If you're referring to the rear propellers of a drone, I would assume you are referring to the rear propellers in a quadcopter setup. In simple terms, the drone is able to move forward by varying the speed of its front propellers from it's rear propellers. This is why when you see a drone move forward, you will see it begin to tilt forward as it begins to move forward, this is because the rear propellers are spinning faster and producing more thrust from its rear propellers, to create an intended imbalance of sorts, allowing it to lean and begin moving forward; simulating the same sort of forward motion suggested by the concept of "falling forward" when you run (though this terms should not be taken literally).

With a greater thrust pushing air "down" at the rear of the drone, the leaning forward of the drone helps direct the propulsion of the drone and redirects the force of moving air coming "up" (or the force pushing up on the rotor that is pushing air down) to be more at an angle (again, an oversimplification) which pushes the drone to move forward or whichever direction it is leaning towards.

While this is a simplified explanation, if you want a more physics-based answer that dives into the how the propellers work, the direction they spin, and explains things like angular momentum being the rotational equivalent of linear momentum, etc. you may want to check out this site. But, hopefully that helps you imagine or understand how drones can fly forwards, backwards, side to side, even with propellers in the rear.

  • $\begingroup$ I thought that OP probably meant drones like the MQ-9, which fly like typical airplanes but have pusher propellers. Maybe OP can clarify. $\endgroup$
    – Edward
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ nice "comment" (it is too big to fit in a comment) 😂 $\endgroup$
    – Phil
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 2:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Edward ahh you're probably right, that didn't cross my mind at the time and now I feel kind of silly for assuming the former. Though I now do wonder if maybe the OP was just generally curious to learn how lift, thrust, drag, and all that work together but due to a lack in experience, they were only able to propose and form a question that asks about what stirred their curiosity in the first place. At least, that might help me explain why there's one question in the title and another in the text as pointed out by someone else in an earlier comment. And, Phil ikr >_< $\endgroup$
    – Doedigo
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 12:22

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