Airflow in Forward Flight – Dissymmetry of Lift

in Aerodynamics of Flight

Dissymmetry of lift is the differential (unequal) lift between advancing and retreating halves of the rotor disk caused by the different wind flow velocity across each half. This difference in lift would cause the helicopter to be uncontrollable in any situation other than hovering in a calm wind. There must be a means of compensating, correcting, or eliminating this unequal lift to attain symmetry of lift.

When the helicopter moves through the air, the relative airflow through the main rotor disk is different on the advancing side than on the retreating side. The relative wind encountered by the advancing blade is increased by the forward speed of the helicopter, while the relative wind speed acting on the retreating blade is reduced by the helicopter’s forward airspeed. Therefore, as a result of the relative wind speed, the advancing blade side of the rotor disk can produce more lift than the retreating blade side. [Figure 2-34]


Figure 2-34. The blade tip speed of this helicopter is approximately 400 knots. If the helicopter is moving forward at 100 knots, the relative windspeed on the advancing side is 400 knots. On the retreating side, it is only 200 knots. This difference in speed causes a dissymmetry of lift.

Figure 2-34. The blade tip speed of this helicopter is approximately 400 knots. If the helicopter is moving forward at 100 knots, the relative windspeed on the advancing side is 400 knots. On the retreating side, it is only 200 knots. This difference in speed causes a dissymmetry of lift.

If this condition were allowed to exist, a helicopter with a counterclockwise main rotor blade rotation would roll to the left because of the difference in lift. In reality, the main rotor blades flap and feather automatically to equalize lift across the rotor disk. Articulated rotor systems, usually with three or more blades, incorporate a horizontal hinge (flapping hinge) to allow the individual rotor blades to move, or flap up and down as they rotate. A semi-rigid rotor system (two blades) utilizes a teetering hinge, which allows the blades to flap as a unit. When one blade flaps up, the other blade flaps down.

As shown in Figure 2-35, as the rotor blade reaches the advancing side of the rotor disk (A), it reaches its maximum up flap velocity. When the blade flaps upward, the angle between the chord line and the resultant relative wind decreases. This decreases the AOA, which reduces the amount of lift produced by the blade. At position (C), the rotor blade is now at its maximum down flapping velocity. Due to down flapping, the angle between the chord line and the resultant relative wind increases. This increases the AOA and thus the amount of lift produced by the blade.

Figure 2-35. The combined upward flapping (reduced lift) of the advancing blade and downward flapping (increased lift) of the retreating blade equalizes lift across the main rotor disk, counteracting dissymmetry of lift.

Figure 2-35. The combined upward flapping (reduced lift) of the advancing blade and downward flapping (increased lift) of the retreating blade equalizes lift across the main rotor disk, counteracting dissymmetry of lift.

The combination of blade flapping and slow relative wind acting on the retreating blade normally limits the maximum forward speed of a helicopter. At a high forward speed, the retreating blade stalls because of a high AOA and slow relative wind speed. This situation is called retreating blade stall and is evidenced by a nose pitch up, vibration, and a rolling tendency—usually to the left in helicopters with counterclockwise blade rotation.

Pilots can avoid retreating blade stall by not exceeding the never-exceed speed. This speed is designated VNE and is indicated on a placard and marked on the airspeed indicator by a red line.

Blade flapping compensates for dissymmetry of lift in the following way. At a hover, equal lift is produced around the rotor system with equal pitch (AOI) on all the blades and at all points in the rotor system (disregarding compensation for translating tendency). The rotor disk is parallel to the horizon. To develop a thrust force, the rotor system must be tilted in the desired direction of movement. Cyclic feathering changes the angle of incidence differentially around the rotor system. Forward cyclic movements decrease the angle of incidence at one part on the rotor system while increasing the angle in another part.

When transitioning to forward flight either from a hover or taking off from the ground, pilots must be aware that as the helicopter speed increases, translational lift becomes more effective and causes the nose to rise, or pitch up (sometimes referred to as blowback). This tendency is caused by the combined effects of dissymmetry of lift and transverse flow. Pilots must correct for this tendency to maintain a constant rotor disk attitude that will move the helicopter through the speed range in which blowback occurs. If the nose is permitted to pitch up while passing through this speed range, the aircraft may also tend to roll to the right. To correct for this tendency, the pilot must continuously move the cyclic forward as velocity of the helicopter increases until the takeoff is complete and the helicopter has transitioned into forward flight.

Figure 2-36 illustrates the changes in pitch angle as the cyclic is moved forward at increased airspeeds. At a hover, the cyclic is centered and the pitch angle on the advancing and retreating blades is the same. At low forward speeds, moving the cyclic forward reduces pitch angle on the advancing blade and increases pitch angle on the retreating blade. This causes a slight rotor tilt. At higher forward speeds, the pilot must continue to move the cyclic forward. This further reduces pitch angle on the advancing blade and further increases pitch angle on the retreating blade. As a result, there is even more tilt to the rotor than at lower speeds.

Figure 2-36. To compensate for blowback, you must move the cyclic forward.

Figure 2-36. To compensate for blowback, you must move the cyclic forward.

A horizontal lift component (thrust) generates higher helicopter airspeed. The higher airspeed induces blade flapping to maintain symmetry of lift. The combination of flapping and cyclic feathering maintains symmetry of lift and desired attitude on the rotor system and helicopter.

51l0aN891BL._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_Are you ready to start your journey learning to fly helicopters? Learning to Fly Helicopters, Second Edition, provides details on the technical and practical aspects of rotarywing flight. Written in a conversational style, the book demystifies the art and science of helicopter flying.


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