A folding propeller is a type of propeller whose blades automatically fold out when the engine is turning, and then fold back (or "feather") when the engine stops. Folding propellers are found on sailing yachts, on model airplanes, and increasingly on self-launching gliders and small motor gliders, such as the Aériane Swift PAS. Their purpose of folding propellers is to reduce drag when sailing or soaring, respectively.
Folding propellers are spun outwards by centrifugal force when the engine is turning, but when the engine stops, the pressure of airflow or waterflow forces the blades back. It follows that such propellers must be pushers, as tractor propellers cannot fold back. Typically, the blades are geared together so that they open and close in unison. Folding propellers used mainly to be two-bladed, but 3-bladed and 4-bladed versions are now available.
Contrary to popular belief, a self-feathering propeller is not more efficient than a fixed bladed prop, as neither type can adopt an optimal blade angle. An exception is the Brunton Autoprop, which is not a typical folding propeller, but a self-actuating variable-pitch propeller. On a boat, most propellers are much less effective in astern, and this is particularly true of folding propellers; whereas the Brunton AutoProp is as effective astern as ahead. (Of course, aircraft have no reverse gear).
The arguments for and against folding propellers are:
|Folding propellers reduce drag while not in use, thereby allowing for more speed or reduced fuel consumption.||Folding propellers have poor performance in astern.|
|Less noise and vibration than fixed blades when not in use, since fluid flow will not cause the propeller to rotate.||They cost more than fixed propellers.|
|For marine propellers, plant growth and crustaceans can hamper the propeller's operation, but this becomes a problem only if the boat is unused for lengthy periods.|