How does one make a high-thrust electric propeller in KSP?
You may have noticed that if you just stick some blades on an electric motor it does generate thrust, but not very much. I'd ballpark the one I made with a medium motor and three small blades at 10kN.
So here are some thoughts about propellers.
The propellers will products a constant max torque and consume a constant maximum amount of power. It's not very much power so I won't focus at all on how to make more efficient propellers.
There is no way to make more thrust by consuming more power from a given motor. It's as if they're driven by a constant current supply (real motors can consume more power until they overheat)
The thrust generated is maximized when the prop is spinning at it's maximum RPM, all other things being equal. Max RPM is limited in two ways:
1. Spinning too fast may destroy blades because they stretch away from the hub and either hit the ground, or break off. The craft does not self-collide though.
2. There is a point where the counter rotational drag on the blades exceeds the torque coming from the motor and RPM decelerates.
At rest, for a given pitch (discussed below) the counter rotational drag on the blades is proportional to the thrust they're giving you. So you want to add more of it until it's almost equal to the torque your motor can apply. You'll know you've succeeded at this if your propeller takes a very long time to spin up.
The counter rotational drag on the blades will increase with the total amount of wing area of the blades, the distance from the center hub of that wing area, the air pressure, and the angle of attack of the blades, and the speed of the blades through the air.
Thus if you have enough wing that counter rotating drag is nearly equal to torque, you'll find max RPM limited not by the slider, but by the drag of the blades themselves. As the blades spin faster, this drag increases until it exceeds torque and your blades slow back down. This is what you want your RPM limited by for maximum performance.
There's another irritating limit on max speed - the fact that the blades will stretch away from the hub and either hit the ground or break off. You can limit this by using lighter blades, making blades out of a s few parts as possible, and keeping blade COMs close to the hub
Amount of wing area can be increased with number of blades or bigger blades. consider these interchangeable. You can see that there is a tricky design trade off between having a lot of blade wing area far from the hub, and minimizing stretch. Especially since it's not just stretch you're probably concerned about but the effective diameter of your prop so it doesn't hit the ground.
The angle of attack of the blades is very important. At a stop, blades at a high angle, say 45°, would create the most force (and thus require less blade area to do the same job) but as your craft speeds up, the effective angle of attack of the blades decreases. Imagine them screwing into the air. at some point, your blades are spiraling through the air at exactly the angle they're mounted at and applying no force (but there is virtually no counter rotating drag either) Then, if you were to go faster than that, say by diving or turning on a rocket engine. They'd actually start causing drag on your craft, even when the motor is spinning at max speed. Worse, the air spins up the propeller faster than it's designed to go, and they usually destroy themselves past 500 RPM.
Instead of measuring the pitch of the blades in degrees, it's helpful to measure it in the distance in meters that the blade would screw through in one revolution, a blade mounted at 20°, with it's center (the place where KSP applies all forces) 1m from the hub, would travel a distance of 2π meters, up at a 20° slant. The forward travel is then tan(20°)*2π = 2.29m. So if it spins at 360 RPM, (six revs per second) then it wants to screw through 2.29*6= 13.74 meters of air per second. if the craft moves forward at 13 m/s, it produces a little bit of thrust until the craft moves forward at 13.74 m/s and it produces no thrust. If we reached this speed and want more trust we have to either spin the prop faster, slow the craft down (booo) or change the pitch. My formula says increase it it but this is the part I don't quite understand. What would a pitch of 89° give us? at 360rpm the blades would want to screw through 2159 meters of air, which is a respectable flying speed, but somehow I know it's not going to work. they're practically paddleboards at that angle and most of the force they make would be counter rotational drag, which would limit the max RPM we can reach, probably nowhere near 360.
This craft airspeed at which the blade's angle of attack becomes 0, and we can't increase the RPM any more will end up being our cruising speed. The counter rotating drag on the blades at this speed should be zero, since they're just cutting through the air without doing anything. Since blades seem to function this way, it would seem they're much better suited to hovering than to winged flight.
The ideal pitch depends on many factors that change during flight so aim to use the movsble fins as your prop parts. How can a control input be mapped to the blades independent of their orientation on the craft? airbrake function?
I want to increase the number of blades until the counter rotating drag produced is enough that it begins to limit my max RPM, not the slider. At craft speeds close enough to my pitch-determined maximum, ultimately the slider will limit my max RPM no matter what, and I want that speed to be high, which means I want the pitch to be close to 90, which would mean high counter rotating drag.
What exactly is the drawback to having a pitch close to 90 anyways?