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The propellers on both engines of most conventional twin-engined aircraft spin clockwise (as viewed from behind the engine). Counter-rotating propellers generally spin clockwise on the left engine and counter-clockwise on the right. The advantage of such designs is that counter-rotating propellers balance the effects of torque and P-factor, meaning such aircraft do not have a critical engine.
In designing the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, the decision was made to reverse the counter-rotation such that the "tops" of the propeller arcs move outwards, away from each other. Tests on the initial XP-38 prototype demonstrated greater accuracy in gunnery with the unusual configuration. The counter-rotating powerplants of the German World War II Henschel Hs 129 ground attack aircraft, Heinkel He 177 heavy bomber and Messerschmitt Me 323 transport used the same rotational "sense" as the production P-38 did.
Drawbacks of counter-rotating propellers come from the fact that, in order to reverse sense of rotation of one propeller, a gearbox needs to be used or the engine installation must be different. This may increase weight (gearbox), or maintenance and spare parts costs for the engines and propellers, as different spare parts need to be produced in lower numbers, compared to a conventional installation.
Counter-rotating propellers should not be confused with contra-rotating propellers (propellers that share a common axis).
The following aircraft have counter-rotating propellers:
Single engine, chain driven propellers :
Twin-engine, one engine per wing :
- de Havilland Hornet
- Lockheed P-38 Lightning
- Heinkel He 177 Greif (fourth prototype onwards)
- Henschel Hs 129
- Piper PA-31 Navajo (some variants)
- Piper PA-34 Seneca
- Piper PA-39 Twin Comanche C/R
- Piper PA-40 Arapaho
- Piper PA-44 Seminole
- Cessna T303 Crusader
- Beechcraft 76 Duchess
- Piaggio P.180 Avanti
- Vought V-173 Flying Pancake
At least four engines, two or more on each wing :
- Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant transport
- Airbus A400M Atlas - first aircraft with propellers in counter-rotating pairs on each wing
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