Helicopters in Flight – Forward Flight

in Physics

In the early days of helicopter development, the ability to hover was mastered before there was success in attaining forward flight. The early attempts at forward flight resulted in the helicopter rolling over when it tried to depart from the hover and move in any direction. The cause of the rollover is what we now refer to as dissymmetry of lift.


When a helicopter is in a hover, all the rotor blades are experiencing the same velocity of airflow. When the helicopter starts to move, the velocity of airflow seen by the rotor blades changes. For helicopters built in the United States, the main rotor blades turn in a counterclockwise direction when viewed from the top. Viewed from the top, as the blades move around the right side of the helicopter, they are moving toward the nose; as they move around the left side of the helicopter, they are moving toward the tail. When the helicopter starts moving forward, the blade on the right side is moving toward the relative wind, and the blade on the left side is moving away from the relative wind. This causes the blade on the right side to create more lift and the blade on the left side to create less lift. Figure 3-94 shows how this occurs.

Figure 3-94. Dissymmetry of lift for rotor blades.

Figure 3-94. Dissymmetry of lift for rotor blades.

In Figure 3-94, blade number 2 would be called the advancing blade, and blade number 1 would be called the retreating blade. The advancing blade is moving toward the relative wind, and therefore experiences a greater velocity of airflow. The increased lift created by the blade on the right side will try to roll the helicopter to the left. If this condition is allowed to exist, it will ultimately lead to the helicopter crashing.