Helicopters are a form of rotary-wing aircraft or rotorcraft, featuring horizontally-spinning rotors that generate the lift and thrust needed for flight. With the common design and configurations of such vehicles, helicopters are capable of conducting vertical take off and landing operations, hovering, and flying forward, backward, and laterally. For a pilot to harness such abilities, helicopters feature various flight controls that enable management over various systems and flight surfaces. In this blog, we will discuss the controls of helicopters, allowing you to better understand how such rotary-wing aircraft types are flown.
While helicopters may vary in the design of their aircraft rotors, tails, and other structures based on their model and application, all rely on controls such as the collective pitch control, throttle control, cyclic pitch control, and antitorque pedals. The collective pitch control enables management over the pitch angle of helicopter rotor blade components, coming in the form of a lever that is situated on the left side of the pilot’s seat. Adjusting all blades collectively, hence their name, raising the lever will result in an increased pitch angle while lowering the lever will decrease the blade pitch angle. Adjustments with the use of controls are made possible through mechanical linkages, and resistance is implemented in the control itself to ensure that unintended changes are avoided for safety.
It is important to understand that pitch angle changes will have a subsequent effect on drag, that of which also adjusts the rpm of the main rotor. As constant rotor rpm is desirable for safe and efficient flight operations, a throttle control or governor is implemented for compensation. The throttle manages the rpm of the engine, regularly coming in the form of a twist grip. Generally, a counter-clockwise turn of the grip may be used to increase engine RPM, while clockwise movements decrease rpm. Governors are similar to throttle controls, albeit operating automatically as a sensing device for rpm. Governors are often found on turbine helicopters, though may be implemented within piston powered types as well.
To achieve the forward, backward, and lateral control that many helicopters are capable of, pilots utilize the cyclic pitch control. Also known as a cyclic, such devices come between the pilot’s legs or between pilot seats and are used to tilt the tip-path plane of the rotor disk in a desired direction. Cyclic pitch controls are fairly straightforward as forward movements result in a forward tip, aft movements result in an aft tip, and so on. For safety, pilots should be aware that adjustments to the cyclic also cause changes in the helicopter’s angle of attack (AOA), thus they should be adamant about maintaining safe operations during such adjustments.
As the main rotor creates a torque that can cause the helicopter body to spin in the opposite direction, such aircraft take advantage of tail rotor blades and assemblies to counteract such forces for balance. With the use of antitorque pedals which are situated near the pilot’s feet within the cockpit, pilots may establish control over the pitch angle of tail rotor blades. With management of antitorque blades, a helicopter will be capable of conducting 360 degree turns.
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