Lateral stability of an airplane takes place around the longitudinal axis, which is from the airplane’s nose to its tail. If one wing is lower than the other, good lateral stability will tend to bring the wings back to a level flight attitude. One design characteristic that tends to give an airplane good lateral stability is called dihedral. Dihedral is an upward angle for the wings with respect to the horizontal, and it is usually just a few degrees.
Imagine a low wing airplane with a few degrees of dihedral experiencing a disruption of its flightpath such that the left wing drops. When the left wing drops, this will cause the airplane to experience a sideslip toward the low wing. The sideslip causes the low wing to experience a higher angle of attack, which increases its lift and raises it back to a level flight attitude. The dihedral on a wing is shown in Figure 3-63.
Movement of the airplane around its vertical axis, and the airplane’s ability to not be adversely affected by a force creating a yaw type of motion, is called directional stability. The vertical fin gives the airplane this stability, causing the airplane to align with the relative wind. In flight, the airplane acts like the weather vane we use around our home to show the direction the wind is blowing. The distance from the pivot point on a weather vane to its tail is greater than the distance from its pivot point to the nose. So when the wind blows, it creates a greater torque force on the tail and forces it to align with the wind. On an airplane, the same is true. With the CG being the pivot point, it is a greater distance from the CG to the vertical stabilizer than it is from the CG to the nose. [Figure 3-64]
The dihedral of the wing tries to roll the airplane in the opposite direction of how it is slipping, and the vertical fin will try to yaw the airplane in the direction of the slip. These two events combine in a way that affects lateral and directional stability. If the wing dihedral has the greatest effect, the airplane will have a tendency to experience a Dutch roll. A Dutch roll is a small amount of oscillation around both the longitudinal and vertical axes. Although this condition is not considered dangerous, it can produce an uncomfortable feeling for passengers. Commercial airliners typically have yaw dampers that sense a Dutch roll condition and cancel it out.