The Difference Between Piston and Rotary Engines

Traditional piston engines are a widely used type, often seen in numerous automobiles and general aviation aircraft for power production. While serving as an engine type that has a long and proven track record of reliable performance, some vehicles may utilize different engine types such as the rotary engine. While having similar appearances and belonging to a common family of internal combustion engine types, the two engines have distinct differences that are important to be aware of.

A piston engine, often referred to as a reciprocating engine, is a type that is noted for its use of one or more reciprocating pistons which are tasked with transforming pressure into a rotational motion. As a combustion engine, the piston engine operates through the use of pressurized fuel-and-air mixtures that are burned within cylinders. During the combustion of fuel-and-air mixtures, a large amount of force is generated, assisting the pistons in driving the crankshaft assembly. With the resulting rotation of the crankshaft, the automobile or piston powered aircraft may achieve movement. While remaining the most popular engine choice for automobiles and a common element of many lightweight, general aviation aircraft, there are some manufacturers that elect to choose different engine types for their vehicles.

The rotary engine is another popular engine type that may be seen in various automobiles and a number of aircraft, though they are less common. Unlike the conventional piston engine, the rotary engine features sets of odd numbered cylinders that are placed in rows. With a stationary central crankshaft, the rows of cylinders are placed around it in a radial configuration. During standard operations, the entire cylinder block rotates around the stationary crankshaft, allowing for a consistent firing order in which every other piston fires as the assembly turns.

While their dissimilar appearances are a clear indication of how the two engines are set apart from one another, they also exhibit different operational characteristics that are important to be aware of as well. For one, rotary engines are known for providing less fuel efficiency as compared to the piston engine, often consuming a great amount of fuel while generating a lower horsepower output. Additionally, they also have an exhaust system that produces more emissions and may have the chance of leaking. Despite this, they have the advantage of being designed with fewer moving parts, some having as low as three primary moving components. Because of this, rotary engines tend to have less internal failures as compared to the piston engine. Furthermore, rotary engines are known for their smooth running and low weight due to the construction of their assembly.

While the rotary engine has long been superseded by other types in the realm of aviation, a number of automobile manufacturers continue to use it due to its various benefits. As such, the choice between each will often depend upon the particular wants and needs of an individual or manufacturer. Regardless of whether you need high quality piston engine parts or rotary engine components, Purchasing 3sixty is here to help you secure all that you are searching for with competitive pricing and rapid lead-times.

Purchasing 3sixty is a premier supplier of aviation, NSN, and electronic parts, offering customers access to an unrivaled inventory of over 2 billion items. As a leading parts distributor, we enact strict quality assurance measures to ensure that every product that we offer is dependable and can be steadily relied on during operations. With our unwavering dedication to testing, inspection, and export compliance, we proudly operate with AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 00-56B certification and accreditation. Get started with a personalized quote for your comparisons today when you fill out and submit an Instant RFQ form as provided on our website.


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