In a naturally aspirated engine, air for combustion (diesel cycle in a diesel engine or specific types of Otto cycle in petrol engines—namely petrol direct injection), or an air/fuel mixture (traditional Otto cycle petrol engines)—is drawn into the engine’s cylinders by atmospheric pressure acting against a partial vacuum that occurs as the piston travels downwards toward bottom dead centre during the intake stroke. Owing to innate restriction in the engine's inlet tract, which includes the intake manifold, a small pressure drop occurs as air is drawn in, resulting in a volumetric efficiency of less than 100 percent—and a less than complete air charge in the cylinder. The density of the air charge, and therefore the engine's maximum theoretical power output, in addition to being influenced by induction system restriction, is also affected by engine speed and atmospheric pressure, the latter of which decreases as the operating altitude increases.
This is in contrast to a forced-induction engine, in which a mechanically driven supercharger or an exhaust-driven turbocharger is employed to facilitate increasing the mass of intake air beyond what could be produced by atmospheric pressure alone. Nitrous oxide can also be used to artificially increase the mass of oxygen present in the intake air. This is accomplished by injecting liquid nitrous oxide into the intake, which supplies significantly more oxygen in a given volume than is possible with atmospheric air. Nitrous oxide is 36.352% oxygen by mass as compared with atmospheric air at 20.95%. Nitrous oxide also boils at −127.3 °F (−88.5 °C) at atmospheric pressures and offers significant cooling from the latent heat of vaporization, which also aids in increasing the overall air charge density significantly compared to natural aspiration.
As a two-stroke diesel engine is incapable of this natural aspiration, some method of charging the cylinders with scavenging air must be integrated into the engine design. This is usually achieved with a positive displacement blower driven by the crankshaft. The blower does not act as a supercharger in this application, as it is sized to produce a volume of air flow that is in direct proportion to engine's requirement for combustion, at a given power and speed. By the Society of Automotive Engineer's definition, a mechanically scavenged two-stroke diesel engine is considered to be naturally aspirated.