Unlike fixed-wing aircraft, rotary-wing aircraft are unique in their ability to fly in any direction, including being able to fly vertically and hover over land. However, to safely navigate and steer these vehicles, it is crucial to have control over the direction of flight. As helicopters are the most common example of rotary-wing aircraft, this blog will explore the mechanisms and controls used to manage the direction of flight for such vessels.
Flight Control Systems
In general, flight control systems are used to manipulate the aircraft's attitude and movement. The flight control system in helicopters is made up of collective, cyclic, and directional controls, and any changes to these controls transmit to the rotor and produce aerodynamic effects on the rotor blades, making them move in the desired direction. Depending on the complexity of the helicopter in question, the cyclic and collective may be linked together by a mixing unit, a mechanical or hydraulic device that combines the inputs from both and sends them to the control surfaces to achieve a particular maneuver.
Collective Pitch Control
The collective pitch control is usually located on the left side of the pilot’s seat alongside an adjustable friction control to prevent unwanted movements. Generally, it is used to control the overall lift of the helicopter. More specifically, the collective control changes the pitch angle of all the main rotor blades simultaneously so that lift is increased or decreased. Furthermore, this control affects the vertical direction of flight, allowing the helicopter to climb or descend with ease. If the helicopter experiences a power failure during flight, the pilot can adjust the collective pitch to keep the rotor spinning, producing sufficient lift to land.
Cyclic Pitch Control
The cyclic pitch control is a crucial component used to regulate the helicopter's ability to manage lateral and longitudinal movement. This control mechanism is situated just beneath the front of each pilot’s seat, and it functions by adjusting the angle of attack of each rotor blade individually, resulting in a change in lift on one side of the rotor system. This increased lift causes the helicopter to move in the corresponding direction, including forward, backward, left, or right. As such, the cyclic pitch control plays a crucial role in maneuvering helicopters with various types of helicopter rotor systems.
Directional control in a rotary-wing aircraft is achieved through the tail rotors and anti-torque systems, as well as swashplate mechanisms that control pitch and roll. Tail rotors and anti-torque systems counteract the torque produced by the main rotor and prevent the aircraft from spinning uncontrollably. By contrast, the swashplate mechanism controls the pitch and roll of the aircraft by tilting the main rotor blades.
To sum up, we are going to reiterate some key takeaways. First, maintaining directional control is a critical component of piloting rotary-wing aircraft and is successfully achieved through the utilization of mechanisms like anti-torque systems and tail rotors. Pitch and roll are regulated via swashplate mechanisms, while collective and cyclic pitch controls are employed to navigate the helicopter's movement and attain the desired direction of flight. Familiarity with these controls and mechanisms is indispensable for any pilot operating a rotary-wing aircraft.
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