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Helicopter ight controls

A helicopter pilot manipulates the helicopter ight controls to achieve and maintain controlled aerodynamic
ight.[1] Changes to the Aircraft ight control system
transmit mechanically to the rotor, producing aerodynamic eects on the rotor blades that make the helicopter
move in a deliberate way. To tilt forward and back (pitch)
or sideways (roll), requires that the controls alter the angle
of attack of the main rotor blades cyclically during rotation, creating diering amounts of lift (force) at dierent
points in the cycle. To increase or decrease overall lift
requires that the controls alter the angle of attack for all
blades collectively by equal amounts at the same time, resulting in ascent, descent, acceleration and deceleration.

a joystick in a conventional aircraft. But on the Robinson

R22, the cyclic is a central pillar that either pilot can manipulate.

The control is called the cyclic because it changes the

pitch angle of the rotor blades cyclically. That is, the
pitch, or feathering angle, of the rotor blades changes depending upon their position as they rotate around the hub,
so that all blades have the same incidence at the same
point in the cycle. The change in cyclic pitch has the
eect of changing the angle of attack, and thus the lift
generated by a single blade as it moves around the rotor
disk. This in turn causes the blades to y up or down in
sequence, depending on the changes in lift aecting each
A typical helicopter has three ight control inputsthe individual blade.
cyclic stick, the collective lever, and the anti-torque pedals.[2] Depending on the complexity of the helicopter, the
cyclic and collective may be linked together by a mixing
unit, a mechanical or hydraulic device that combines the
inputs from both and then sends along the mixed input
to the control surfaces to achieve the desired result. The
manual throttle may also be considered a ight control
because it is needed to maintain rotor speed on smaller
helicopters without governors. The governors also help
the pilot control the collective pitch on the helicopters
main rotors, to keep a stable, more accurate ight.


Robinson R22 ight controls


The result is to tilt the rotor disk in a particular direction, resulting in the helicopter moving in that direction.
If the pilot pushes the cyclic forward, the rotor disk tilts
forward, and the rotor produces a thrust vector in the forward direction. If the pilot pushes the cyclic to the right,
the rotor disk tilts to the right and produces thrust in that
direction, causing the helicopter to move sideways in a
hover or to roll into a right turn during forward ight,
much as in a xed wing aircraft.
Any rotor system has a delay between the point in rotation where the controls introduce a change in pitch and the
point where the desired change in the rotor blades ight
occurs. This dierence is caused by phase lag, often confused with gyroscopic precession. A rotor is an oscillaThe cyclic control is usually located between the pilots tory system that obeys the laws that govern vibration
legs and is commonly called the cyclic stick or just cyclic. which, depending on the rotor system, may resemble the
On most helicopters, the cyclic is similar in appearance to behaviour of a gyroscope.


1.4 Throttle
Helicopter rotors are designed to operate at a specic rotational speed. The throttle controls the power of the engine, which is connected to the rotor by a transmission.
The throttle setting must maintain enough engine power
to keep the rotor speed within the limits where the rotor
produces enough lift for ight. In many helicopters, the
throttle control is a single or dual motorcycle-style twist
grip mounted on the collective control (rotation is opposite of a motorcycle throttle), while some multi-engine
helicopters have power levers.
In many piston engine-powered helicopters, the pilot manipulates the throttle to maintain rotor speed. Turbine engine helicopters, and some piston helicopters, use governors or other electro-mechanical control systems to maintain rotor speed and relieve the pilot of routine responsibility for that task. (There is normally also a manual
reversion available in the event of a governor failure.)

2 Flight conditions
Guimbal Cabri G2

There are three basic ight conditions for a helicopter:

hover, forward ight and autorotation.


2.1 Hover


The collective pitch control, or collective lever, is normally located on the left side of the pilots seat with an
adjustable friction control to prevent inadvertent movement. The collective changes the pitch angle of all the
main rotor blades collectively (i.e., all at the same time)
and independent of their position. Therefore, if a collective input is made, all the blades change equally, and the
result is the helicopter increases or decreases its total lift
derived from the rotor. In level ight this would cause a
climb or descent, while with the helicopter pitched forward an increase in total lift would produce an acceleration together with a given amount of ascent.

Some pilots consider hovering the most challenging aspect of helicopter ight.[4] This is because helicopters are
generally dynamically unstable, meaning that deviations
from a given attitude are not corrected without pilot input. Thus, frequent control inputs and corrections must
be made by the pilot to keep the helicopter at a desired
location and altitude. The pilots use of control inputs in a
hover is as follows: the cyclic is used to eliminate drift in
the horizontal plane, (e.g., forward, aft, and side to side
motion); the collective is used to maintain desired altitude; and the tail rotor (or anti-torque system) pedals are
used to control nose direction or heading. It is the interThe collective pitch control in a Boeing CH-47 Chinook action of these controls that can make learning to hover
is called a thrust control, but serves the same purpose, dicult, since often an adjustment in any one control reexcept that it controls two rotor systems, applying dier- quires the adjustment of the other two, necessitating pilot
familiarity with the coupling of control inputs needed to
ential collective pitch.[3]
produce smooth ight.


Anti-torque pedals

The anti-torque pedals are located in the same place as

the rudder pedals in an airplane, and serve a similar
purposethey control the direction that the nose of the
aircraft points. Applying the pedal in a given direction
changes the tail rotor blade pitch, increasing or reducing
tail rotor thrust and making the nose yaw in the direction
of the applied pedal.

2.2 Forward ight

In forward ight, a helicopters ight controls behave
more like those in a xed-wing aircraft. Moving the cyclic
forward makes the nose pitch down, thus losing altitude
and increasing airspeed. Moving the cyclic back makes
the nose pitch up, slowing the helicopter and making it
climb. Increasing collective (power) while maintaining a
constant airspeed induces a climb, while decreasing collective (power) makes the helicopter descend. Coordi-

nating these two inputs, down collective plus aft (back) [4] Learning to Fly Helicopters, see section titled: First Lesson: Air
cyclic or up collective plus forward cyclic causes airspeed
changes while maintaining a constant altitude. The pedals serve the same function in both a helicopter and an Sources
airplane, to maintain balanced ight. This is done by applying a pedal input in the direction necessary to center
Flight Standards Service. Rotorcraft Flying Handthe ball in the turn and bank indicator.
book: FAA Manual H-8083-21. Washington, DC:
Flight Standards Service, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 2001. ISBN
2.3 Autorotation
Main article: Autorotation

Dierential pitch control

For helicopters with contra-rotating rotorsalso known

as Coaxial mountedone over the other on the same rotor shaft (Like a Kamov KA-50), helicopter control requires interaction between the two rotors. However, a
helicopter with tandem rotorscounter rotating rotors
on dierent rotor masts (Like a Boeing CH-47 Chinook)
uses dierential collective pitch to change the pitch attitude of the aircraft. To pitch nose down and accelerate
forward, the pilot decreases collective pitch on the front
rotor and increases collective pitch on the rear rotor proportionally. Conversely, the synchropter and transversemounted rotor counter rotating rotorcraft have two large
horizontal rotor assemblies mounted side by side, (like a
Bell/Boeing V-22 tilt rotor) helicopters use dierential
collective pitch to aect the roll of the aircraft. All of
these congurations use dierential cyclic pitch to control
movement about the yaw axis, tilting the rotors in opposite directions to cause the aircraft to spin in the direction
of the tilted rotors.

See also
Aeronautical engineering
Helicopter rotor


[1] Gablehouse, Charles (1969) Helicopters and Autogiros: a
History of Rotating-Wing and V/STOL Aviation. Lippincott. p.206
[2] Flying a Helicopter at
[3] Tandem Rotors at


6 External links
Dynamic Flight
Students article
Helicopter history
Helicopter development in the early 20th century


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