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Air-cooled engines rely on the circulation of air directly over hot parts of the engine to cool them.

A cylinder from an air-cooled aviation engine, a Continental C85. Notice the rows of fins on both the steel cylinder barrel and the aluminum cylinder head. The fins provide additional surface area for air to pass over the cylinder and absorb heat.


Most modern internal combustion engines are cooled by a closed circuit carrying liquid coolant through channels in the engine block and cylinder head, where the coolant absorbs heat, to a heat exchanger or radiator where the coolant releases heat into the air. Thus, while they are ultimately cooled by air, because of the liquid-coolant circuit they are known as water-cooled. In contrast, heat generated by an air-cooled engine is released directly into the air. (Direct Cooled Engine) Typically this is facilitated with metal fins covering the outside of the Cylinder Head and cylinders which increase the surface area that air can act on. Air may be force fed with the use of a fan and shroud to achieve efficient cooling with high volumes of air or simply by natural air flow with well designed and angled fins.

In all combustion engines, a great percentage of the heat generated (around 44%) escapes through the exhaust, not through either a liquid cooling system nor through the metal fins of an air-cooled engine (12%). About 8% of the heat energy finds its way into the oil, which although primarily meant for lubrication, also plays a role in heat dissipation via a cooler. [1]


Road vehicles[edit]

Honda CB1100

Many motorcycles use air cooling for the sake of reducing weight and complexity. Few current production automobiles have air-cooled engines (such as Tatra 815), but historically it was common for many high-volume vehicles. Examples of past air-cooled road vehicles, in roughly chronological order, include:


Most aviation piston engines are air-cooled, including most of the engines currently (2005) manufactured by Lycoming and Continental and used by major manufacturers of light aircraft Cirrus, Cessna and so on. Notable exceptions have included the Allison V-1710 and Rolls-Royce series of (most well known, the Merlin V-1650) liquid-cooled V12 engines which powered P-51 Mustangs, Avro Lancasters, Hawker Hurricanes and Spitfires.

Other engine manufactures using air-cooled engine technology are ULPower and Jabiru, more active in the Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) and ultralight aircraft market. Rotax uses a combination of air-cooled cylinders and liquid-cooled cylinder heads.

Diesel engines[edit]

Some small diesel engines, e.g. those made by Deutz AG and Lister Petter are air-cooled. Probably the only big Euro 5 truck air-cooled engine (V8 320 kW power 2100 Nm torque one) is being produced by Tatra.

Stationary or Portable Engines[edit]

These were commercially introduced early in the 1900s. The first commercial production was by the New Way Motor Company of Lansing, Michigan, USA. The company produced air cooled engines in single and twin cylinders in both horizontal and vertical cylinder format. Subsequent to their initial production which was exported world wide, other companies took up the advantages of this cooling method especially in small portable engines. Applications include mowers, generators, outboard motors, pump sets, saw benches and auxiliary power plants.


  1. ^ Sloan 1964, pp. 71–94, Chapter 5, "The copper-cooled engine".


Cited sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • P V Lamarque, "The design of cooling fins for Motor-Cycle Engines". Report of the Automobile Research Committee, Institution of Automobile Engineers Magazine, March 1943 issue, and also in "The Institution of Automobile Engineers. Proceedings XXXVII, Session 1942-1943, pp 99-134 and 309-312.
  • Julius Mackerle, "Air-cooled Automotive Engines", Charles Griffin & Company Ltd., London 1972.

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