Rotorcraft Fundamentals/Introduction to the Helicopter

Helicopters come in many sizes and shapes, but most share the same major components. These components include a cabin where the payload and crew are carried; an airframe, which houses the various components, or where components are attached; a powerplant or engine; and a transmission, which, among other things, takes the power from the engine and transmits it to the main rotor, which provides the aerodynamic forces that make the helicopter fly. Then, to keep the helicopter from turning due to torque, there must be some type of antitorque system. Finally there is the landing gear, which could be skids, wheels, skis, or floats. This chapter is an introduction to these components. [Figure 1-1]

Figure 1-1. The major components of a helicopter are the cabin, airframe, landing gear, powerplant, transmission, mainrotor system, and tail rotor system.

The Main Rotor SystemEdit

Figure 1-2. Helicopters can have a single main rotor or a dual main rotor system.

The rotor system found on helicopters can consist of a single main rotor or dual rotors. With most dual rotors, the rotors turn in opposite directions so the torque from one rotor is opposed by the torque of the other. This cancels the turning tendencies. [Figure 1-2]

In general, a rotor system can be classified as either fully articulated, semirigid, or rigid. There are variations and combinations of these systems, which will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 5—Helicopter Systems.

Fully Articulated Rotor SystemEdit

A fully articulated rotor system usually consists of three or more rotor blades. The blades are allowed to flap, feather, and lead or lag independently of each other. Each rotor blade is attached to the rotor hub by a horizontal hinge, called the flapping hinge, which permits the blades to flap up and down. Each blade can move up and down independently of the others. The flapping hinge may be located at varying distances from the rotor hub, and there may be more than one. The position is chosen by each manufacturer, primarily with regard to stability and control. Each rotor blade is also attached to the hub by a vertical hinge, called a drag or lag hinge, that permits each blade, independently of the others, to move back and forth in the plane of the rotor disc. Dampers are normally incorporated in the design of this type of rotor system to prevent excessive motion about the drag hinge. The purpose of the drag hinge and dampers is to absorb the acceleration and deceleration of the rotor blades. The blades of a fully articulated rotor can also be feathered, or rotated about their spanwise axis. To put it more simply, feathering means the changing of the pitch angle of the rotor blades.

Semi-Rigid Rotor SystemEdit

A semirigid rotor system allows for two different movements, flapping and feathering. This system is normally comprised of two blades, which are rigidly attached to the rotor hub. The hub is then attached to the rotor mast by a trunnion bearing or teetering hinge. This allows the blades to see-saw or flap together. As one blade flaps down, the other flaps up. Feathering is accomplished by the feathering hinge, which changes the pitch angle of the blade.

Rigid Rotor SystemEdit

The rigid rotor system is mechanically simple, but structurally complex because operating loads must be absorbed in bending rather than through hinges. In this system, the blades cannot flap or lead and lag, but they can be feathered.

Anti-torque SystemsEdit

Figure 1-3. The anti-torque rotor produces thrust to oppose torque preventing the helicopter from turning in the opposite direction of the main rotor.

Tail RotorEdit

Most helicopters with a single, main rotor system require a separate rotor to overcome torque. This is accomplished through a variable pitch, antitorque rotor or tail rotor. [Figure 1-3]. You will need to vary the thrust of the antitorque system to maintain directional control whenever the main rotor torque changes, or to make heading changes while hovering.

Figure 1-4. The fenestron antitorque system provides improved safety during ground operations.


Another form of antitorque rotor is the fenestron or “fan-in-tail” design. This system uses a series of rotating blades shrouded within a vertical tail. Because the blades are located within a circular duct, they are less likely to come into contact with people or objects. [Figure 1-4]

File:Heli notar dia.png
Figure 1-5. While in a hover, Coanda Effect supplies approximately 66% of the lift necessary to maintain directional control. The rest is created by directing the thrust from the controllable rotating nozzle.


The NOTAR® system is an alternative to the antitorque rotor. The system uses low-pressure air that is forced into the tailboom by a fan mounted within the helicopter. The air is then fed through horizontal slots, located on the right side of the tailboom, and to a controllable rotating nozzle to provide antitorque and directional control. The low-pressure air coming from the horizontal slots, in conjunction with the downwash from the main rotor, creates a phenomenon called “Coanda Effect,” which produces a lifting force on the right side of the tailboom. [Figure 1-5]

Landing GearEdit

The most common landing gear is a skid type gear, which is suitable for landing on various types of surfaces. Some types of skid gear are equipped with dampers so touchdown shocks or jolts are not transmitted to the main rotor system. Other types absorb the shocks by the bending of the skid attachment arms. Landing skids may be fitted with replaceable heavyduty skid shoes to protect them from excessive wear and tear.

Helicopters can also be equipped with floats for water operations, or skis for landing on snow or soft terrain. Wheels are another type of landing gear. They may be in a tricycle or four point configuration. Normally, the nose or tail gear is free to swivel as the helicopter is taxied on the ground.


Figure 1-6. Typically, the engine drives the main rotor through a transmission and belt drive or centrifugal clutch system. The anti-torque rotor is driven by the transmission.

A typical small helicopter has a reciprocating engine, which is mounted on the airframe. The engine can be mounted horizontally or vertically with the transmission supplying the power to the vertical main rotor shaft. [Figure 1-6]

Another engine type is the gas turbine. This engine is used in most medium to heavy lift helicopters due to its large horsepower output. The engine drives the main transmission, which then transfers power directly to the main rotor system, as well as the tail rotor.

Flight ControlsEdit

Figure 1-7. Location of flight controls in a helicopter.

When you begin flying a helicopter, you will use four basic flight controls. They are the cyclic pitch control; the collective pitch control; the throttle, which is usually a twist grip control located on the end of the collective lever; and the antitorque pedals. The collective and cyclic controls the pitch of the main rotor blades. The function of these controls will be explained in detail in Chapter 4—Flight Controls. [Figure 1-7]