Pusher airplane is a name given to any aircraft which follows a typical kind of engine-propeller arrangement known as the "pusher configuration". Manufactured extensively during the First World War, the pusher aircraft was famous for its efficiency and maneuvering capabilities.
Pusher aircraft is one of the earliest types of aircrafts. Pusher aircraft is the name given to any aircraft wherein the engine is located just beyond the propeller. The name “pusher" signifies that the arrangement provides a pushing effect from the rear of the plane. Pusher aircrafts or “pusher configuration" as it is commonly known, were mostly seen in airplanes manufactured during the First World War.
Pusher configuration is supposed to be the earliest arrangement in airplanes, wherein the propeller faced backward and was placed right behind the aircraft’s engine. Many a times the propeller was also located behind the crew compartment (fuselage) for providing the necessary extra push to the aircraft.
The propeller in pusher configuration, unlike in the tractor configuration wherein the propeller faced forward direction, provided the propulsive force on the airframe from the rear of the aircraft.
Mostly, all the early World war aircrafts had pusher configuration mainly because of their forward firing machine gun arrangement, which required an “obstruction-free" forepart devoid of the propeller blades. However, due to the development of synchronized machine guns toward the end of First World War, the production of pusher aircrafts declined. The invention of interrupted gear system also leads to the downfall of pusher aircrafts. However, pusher aircrafts are still made as unmanned aerial vehicles and seaplanes.
The main advantage of pusher airplane is that the position of the propeller, right behind the fuselage, increases the overall efficiency of the plane by reducing the profile drag. As compared to the tractor configuration, pusher configuration makes the aircraft less stable, making it more favorable for maneuvering, especially the war aircrafts.
Pusher airplanes were most suitable for war aircrafts because of the propeller and engine position which did not block the pilot’s vision, both forward and rearward. Also, as the engine was placed at the rear of the aircraft, the fuel didn’t pass beneath the crew compartment, thus preventing risks of engine or crew compartment fire in case of any leakage. The location of the engine and propeller behind the cockpit also made the latter quieter and protected the crew from any kind of propeller failure.
Though pusher aircrafts had many advantages, there were some disadvantages too, which eventually lead to their downfall. The main disadvantage of pusher airplane was that it was structurally more complicated, mainly because of the problems related to mounting of empennage behind the propeller. Also, though this arrangement showed increased efficiency in the start, with time, the drag increased and reduced the overall aircraft efficiency.
The chances of pilot survival in a crash was also diminished in a pusher aircraft. This was because it was claimed that in case of a crash, the engine located just behind the crew compartment, will crush the latter due to the weight and momentum, destroying everything inside the compartment. Moreover, a pusher aircraft could not be provided with pusher props as the probability of crew members striking the propeller was very high.
Pusher planes were mostly used as war aircrafts wherein the machine guns were places right in front of the propellers. This arrangement posed a greater threat for the propeller's wings to get damaged because of the falling of used ammunition. Moreover, unlike the tractor configuration wherein the heat from the engine could be used to provide warmth in the cockpit, pusher configuration couldn’t avail such benefits.