Aerodynamics of a Helicopter Rotor in Forward Flight

Early History
Modern History
Flapping Hinges
Maximum Speed
Cyclic Control
Momentum Theory
Blade Element Theory
Rotor Wake
Based on a paper originally written
by Doug Jackson
Spring 2000


Even though the design of the modern helicopter was not perfected until the late 1930s, it is arguably one of the earliest ideas for achieving flight, predating the concept of the glider by perhaps as much as two thousand years. Inspired by the flight of birds, even ancient humans dreampt of soaring at high speeds, stopping on a dime, and hovering in place, much like a hummingbird or dragonfly. Yet no one truly appreciated the complexities needed to make that dream become reality, and it took the collected wisdom and patience of a number of notable aviation pioneers over the course of centuries to bring that technology into existence.

In this site, we will first explore the history of how the modern helicopter came to be and highlight the great thinkers and designers who made the most significant innovations. Next, we will look at the mechanics of a helicopter rotor in forward flight and introduce the many complex challenges that have to be overcome to make a rotorcraft controllable. We will then discuss the two prevailing analytical theories used by engineers to mathematically describe how a rotor functions before wrapping up with an overview of the wake vortices created by the rotor in flight.

Closeup of the Eurocopter Tiger in flight

Last modified 11 March 2012

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