Normal Descent

in Basic Flight Maneuvers

A normal descent is a maneuver in which the helicopter loses altitude at a controlled rate in a controlled attitude.


To establish a normal descent from straight-and-level flight at cruising airspeed, lower the collective to obtain proper power, adjust the throttle to maintain rpm, and increase right antitorque pedal pressure to maintain heading in a counterclockwise rotor system, or left pedal pressure in a clockwise system. If cruising airspeed is the same as or slightly above descending airspeed, simultaneously apply the necessary cyclic pressure to obtain the approximate descending attitude. If the pilot wants to decelerate, the cyclic must be moved aft. If the pilot desires to descend with increased airspeed, then forward cyclic is all that is required if airspeed remains under the limit. As the helicopter stabilizes at any forward airspeed, the fuselage attitude will streamline due to the airflow over the horizontal stabilizer. As the airspeed changes, the airflow over the vertical stabilizer or fin changes, so the pedals must be adjusted for trim.

The pilot should always remember that the total lift and thrust vectoring is controlled by the cyclic. If a certain airspeed is desired, it will require a certain amount of cyclic and collective movement for level flight. If the cyclic is moved, the thrust-versus-lift ration is changed. Aft cyclic directs more power to lift, and altitude increases. Forward cyclic directs more power to thrust, and airspeed increases. If the collective is not changed and there is a change only in cyclic, the total thrust to lift ration does not change; aft cyclic results in a climb, and forward cyclic results in a descent with the corresponding airspeed changes.

To level off from the descent, lead the desired altitude by approximately 10 percent of the rate of descent. For example, a 500 fpm rate of descent would require a 50 foot lead. At this point, increase the collective to obtain cruising power, adjust the throttle to maintain rpm, and increase left antitorque pedal pressure to maintain heading (right pedal pressure in a clockwise rotor system). Adjust the cyclic to obtain cruising airspeed and a level flight attitude as the desired altitude is reached.

Common Errors

  • Failure to maintain constant angle of decent during training.
  • Failure to level-off the aircraft sufficiently, which results in recovery below the desired altitude.
  • Failure to adjust antitorque pedal pressures for changes in power.
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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