What’s in a name? Aircraft engine names explained

Aircraft Engines Explained - What's in a Name?

Every pilot has been befuddled by the random mess of letters and numbers that make up airplane engine names. Believe it or not, there is a method to the madness. Consider the trusty IO-360-L2A found in newer model Cessna 172′s.

Continental GSIO-520

The Continental GTSIO-520-L(2) tells a lot about itself in its name.

Based on the name of that engine alone, I can tell you that this is a fuel Injected engine with horizontally-opposed cylinders and that it displaces 360 cubic inches on all cylinders. See what I did with the colors?

The first block of letters tells us the characteristics of the engine. The number after the dash is the the cubic displacement, or total volume of fuel/air mixture that is moved through the cylinders in one complete 4-stroke cycle. Lastly, we have the engine model number.

This naming scheme is pretty common in general aviation and is strictly adhered to by the big companies like Continental and Lycoming.

Special thanks to Continental Motors for help and technical insight into engine names.


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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

5 Replies to What’s in a name? Aircraft engine names explained

  1. Brandyn says:

    Surprisingly many pilots don’t know this. Nice short, to the point, and informative article.
    aviatorsarea.com/

  2. matt says:

    The aerobatic version of the io-360 simply has an AE tacked on to the beginning. AEIO-360

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