Most helicopters have a single, main rotor but require a separate rotor to overcome torque which is a turning or twisting force. This is accomplished through a variable pitch, antitorque rotor or tail rotor. This is the design that Igor Sikorsky settled on for his VS-300 helicopter shown in Figure 1-8. It has become the recognized convention for helicopter design, although designs do vary. When viewed from above, designs from Germany, United Kingdom, and the United States are said to rotate counter-clockwise, all others are said to rotate clockwise. This can make it difficult when discussing aerodynamic effects on the main rotor between different designs, since the effects may manifest on opposite sides of each aircraft. Throughout this website, all examples are based on a counter-clockwise rotating main rotor system.
The tail rotor is a smaller rotor mounted vertically or near vertically on the tail of a traditional single-rotor helicopter. The tail rotor either pushes or pulls against the tail to counter the torque. The tail rotor drive system consists of a drive shaft powered from the main transmission and a gearbox mounted at the end of the tail boom. [Figure 1-9] The drive shaft may consist of one long shaft or a series of shorter shafts connected at both ends with flexible couplings. The flexible couplings allow the drive shaft to flex with the tail boom. The gearbox at the end of the tail boom provides an angled drive for the tail rotor and may also include gearing to adjust the output to the optimum rotational speed typically measured in revolutions per minute (rpm) for the tail rotor. On some larger helicopters, intermediate gearboxes are used to angle the tail rotor drive shaft from along the tail boom or tailcone to the top of the tail rotor pylon, which also serves as a vertical stabilizing airfoil to alleviate the power requirement for the tail rotor in forward flight. The pylon (or vertical fin) may also provide limited antitorque within certain airspeed ranges in the event that the tail rotor or the tail rotor flight controls fail.