Helicopter rotor


Helicopter rotor
Helicopter rotor
Sikorsky S-92 rotor P1230176.jpg
The rotor head of a Sikorsky S-92

A helicopter main rotor or rotor system is a type of fan that is used to generate both the aerodynamic lift force that supports the weight of the helicopter, and thrust which counteracts aerodynamic drag in forward flight. Each main rotor is mounted on a vertical mast over the top of the helicopter, as opposed to a helicopter tail rotor, which is connected through a combination of drive shaft(s) and gearboxes along the tail boom. A helicopter's rotor is generally made up of two or more rotor blades. The blade pitch is typically controlled by a swashplate connected to the helicopter flight controls.

Helicopter rotor diameters are relatively large, as this gives much better energy and propellant efficiency for the speeds at which helicopters fly.

Contents

History and development

Helicopter rotor of Engelbert Zaschka, German master engineer, 1931, image from the German Federal Archives

Before the development of powered helicopters in the mid 20th century, autogyro pioneer Juan de la Cierva researched and developed many of the fundamentals of the rotor. Cierva is credited with successful development of multi-bladed, fully articulated rotor systems. This system, in its various modified forms, is the basis of most multi-bladed helicopter rotor systems.

In the 1930s, Arthur Young improved the stability of two-bladed rotor systems with the introduction of a stabilizer bar. This system was used in several Bell and Hiller helicopter models. It is also used in many remote control model helicopters.

Design

A helicopter rotor is powered by the engine, through the transmission, to the rotating mast. The mast is a cylindrical metal shaft which extends upward from—and is driven by—the transmission. At the top of the mast is the attachment point for the rotor blades called the hub. The rotor blades are then attached to the hub. Main rotor systems are classified according to how the main rotor blades are attached and move relative to the main rotor hub. There are three basic classifications: rigid, semirigid, or fully articulated, although some modern rotor systems use an engineered combination of these classifications.

Unlike the small diameter fans used in turbofan jet engines, the main rotor on a helicopter has a quite large diameter, permitting a large volume of air to be accelerated. This permits a lower downwash velocity for a given amount of thrust. As it is more efficient at low speeds to accelerate a large amount of air by a small degree than a small amount of air by a large degree it greatly increases the aircraft's energy efficiency and this reduces the fuel use and permits reasonable range.

Parts and functions

The simple rotor of a Robinson R22
Robinson R44 rotor head

The simple rotor of a Robinson R22 showing (from the top):

  • The following are driven by the link rods from the rotating part of the swashplate.
    • Pitch hinges, allowing the blades to twist about the axis extending from blade root to blade tip.
  • Teeter hinge, allowing one blade to rise vertically while the other falls vertically. This motion occurs whenever translational relative wind is present, or in response to a cyclic control input.
  • Scissor link and counterweight, carries the main shaft rotation down to the upper swashplate
  • Rubber covers protect moving and stationary shafts
  • Swashplates, transmitting cyclic and collective pitch to the blades (the top one rotates)
  • Three non-rotating control rods transmit pitch information to the lower swashplate
  • Main mast leading down to main gearbox

Swash plate

The pitch of main rotor blades can be varied cyclically throughout its rotation in order to control the direction of rotor thrust vector (the part of the rotor disc where the maximum thrust will be developed, front, rear, right side, etc.). Collective pitch is used to vary the magnitude of rotor thrust (increasing or decreasing thrust over the whole rotor disc at the same time). These blade pitch variations are controlled by tilting and/or raising or lowering the swash plate with the flight controls. The vast majority of helicopters maintain a constant rotor speed (RPM) during flight, leaving only the angle of attack of the blades as the sole means of adjusting thrust from the rotor.

The swash plate is two concentric disks or plates, one plate rotates with the mast, connected by idle links, while the other does not rotate. The rotating plate is also connected to the individual blades through pitch links and pitch horns. The non-rotating plate is connected to links which are manipulated by pilot controls, specifically, the collective and cyclic controls.

The swash plate can shift vertically and tilt. Through shifting and tilting, the non-rotating plate controls the rotating plate, which in turn controls the individual blade pitch.

Fully articulated

Juan de la Cierva developed the fully articulating rotor for the autogyro, and it is the basis of his design that permitted successful helicopter development. In a fully articulated rotor system, each rotor blade is attached to the rotor hub through a series of hinges which allow the blade to move independently of the others. These rotor systems usually have three or more blades. The blades are allowed to flap, feather, and lead or lag independently of each other. The horizontal hinge, called the flapping hinge, allows the blade to move up and down. This movement is called flapping and is designed to compensate for dissymmetry of lift. The flapping hinge may be located at varying distances from the rotor hub, and there may be more than one hinge. The vertical hinge, called the lead-lag or drag hinge, allows the blade to move back and forth. This movement is called lead-lag, dragging, or hunting. Dampers are usually used to prevent excess back and forth movement around the drag hinge. The purpose of the drag hinge and dampers is to compensate for the acceleration and deceleration caused by momentum conservation,[1] and not by Coriolis Effect. Later models have switched from using traditional bearings to elastomeric bearings.[why?][citation needed]

Aircraft

Rigid

The term "rigid rotor" usually refers to a hingeless rotor system[2][3] with blades flexibly attached to the hub. Irven Culver of Lockheed developed one of the first rigid rotors, which was tested and developed on a series of helicopters in the 1960s and 1970s. In a rigid rotor system, each blade flaps and drags about flexible sections of the root. A rigid rotor system is mechanically simpler than a fully articulated rotor system. Loads from flapping and lead/lag forces are accommodated through rotor blades flexing, rather than through hinges. By flexing, the blades themselves compensate for the forces which previously required rugged hinges. The result is a rotor system that has less lag in the control response, because the rotor has much less oscillation.[4] The rigid rotor system also negates the danger of mast bumping inherent in semi-rigid rotors.[5]

Semirigid

Semirigid rotor system

The semirigid rotor can also be referred to as a teetering or seesaw rotor. This system is normally composed of two blades which meet just under a common flapping, or teetering hinge at the rotor shaft. This allows the blades to flap together in opposite motions like a seesaw. This underslinging of the blades below the teetering hinge, combined with an adequate dihedral or coning angle on the blades, minimizes variations in the radius of each blade's center of mass from the axis of rotation as the rotor turns, which in turn reduces the stress on the blades from lead and lag forces caused by coriolis effect. Secondary flapping hinges may also be provided to provide sufficient flexibility to minimize bouncing. Feathering is accomplished by the feathering hinge at the blade root, which allows changes to the pitch angle of the blade.

flybar (Stabilizer bar)

A number of engineers, among them Arthur M. Young in the U.S., and Dieter Schlüter in Germany, found that flight stability for helicopters could be achieved with a stabilizer bar or flybar. The flybar has a weight or paddle (or both for added stability on smaller helicopters) at either end which cause the bar to stay relatively stable in the plane of rotation and reduces crosswind thrust on rotors, see flybar forum. Through mechanical linkages, the stable rotation of the bar is mixed with the swashplate movement so that internal (steering) as well as external (wind) forces on the rotor are damped. This eases the workload of the pilot to maintain control of the aircraft. A helicopter with more than two blades does not require a flybar as the extra blades achieve the same result. Stanley Hiller arrived at a similar method to improve stability by adding short stubby airfoils, or paddles, at each end; However, Hiller's "Rotormatic" system was also used to deliver cyclic control inputs to the main rotor as a sort of control rotor, the paddles provided the added stability by dampening the effects of external forces on the rotor.

In fly-by-wire helicopters or RC models, a microcontroller with gyroscopes and a venturi sensor can replace the stabilizer. This flybar-less design has the advantage of easy reconfiguration and fewer mechanical parts.

Aircraft

Combination

Modern rotor systems may use the combined principles of the rotor systems mentioned above. Some rotor hubs incorporate a flexible hub, which allows for blade bending (flexing) without the need for bearings or hinges. These systems, called "flextures",[6] are usually constructed from composite material. Elastomeric bearings may also be used in place of conventional roller bearings. Elastomeric bearings are bearings constructed from a rubber type material and have limited movement that is perfectly suited for helicopter applications. Flextures and elastomeric bearings require no lubrication and, therefore, require less maintenance. They also absorb vibration, which means less fatigue and longer service life for the helicopter components.

Aircraft

Rotor configurations

Most helicopters have a single, main rotor but require a separate rotor to overcome torque. This is accomplished through a variable pitch, antitorque rotor or tail rotor. This is the design that Igor Sikorsky settled on for his VS-300 helicopter and it has become the recognized convention for helicopter design, although designs do vary. When viewed from above, the main rotors of helicopter designs from Germany, United Kingdom and the United States rotate counter-clockwise, all others rotate clockwise. This can make it difficult when discussing aerodynamic effects on the main rotor between different designs, since the effects may manifest on opposite sides of each aircraft.

Single main rotor

Antitorque: Torque effect on a helicopter

With a single main rotor helicopter, the creation of torque as the engine turns the rotor creates a torque effect that causes the body of the helicopter to turn in the opposite direction of the rotor. To eliminate this effect, some sort of antitorque control must be used, with a sufficient margin of power available to allow the helicopter to maintain its heading and provide yaw control. The three most common controls used today are the traditional tail rotor, Eurocopter's Fenestron (also called a fantail), and MD Helicopters' NOTAR.

Tail rotor

Tail rotor of an SA 330 Puma

The tail rotor is a smaller rotor mounted so that it rotates vertically or near-vertically at the end of the tail of a traditional single-rotor helicopter. The tail rotor's position and distance from the center of gravity allow it to develop thrust in a direction opposite of the main rotor's rotation, to counter the torque effect created by the main rotor. Tail rotors are simpler than main rotors since they require only collective changes in pitch to vary thrust. The pitch of the tail rotor blades is adjustable by the pilot via the anti-torque pedals, which also provide directional control by allowing the pilot to rotate the helicopter around its vertical axis (thereby changing the direction the craft is pointed).

Ducted fan

Fenestron on a EC 120B

Fenestron and FANTAIL[7] are trademarks for a ducted fan mounted at the end of the tail boom of the helicopter and used in place of a tail rotor. Ducted fans have between eight and 18 blades arranged with irregular spacing, so that the noise is distributed over different frequencies. The housing is integral with the aircraft skin and allows a high rotational speed, therefore a ducted fan can have a smaller size than a conventional tail rotor.

The Fenestron was used for the first time at the end of the 1960s on the second experimental model of Sud Aviation's SA 340, and produced on the later model Aérospatiale SA 341 Gazelle. Besides Eurocopter and its predecessors, a ducted fan tail rotor was also used on the canceled military helicopter project, the United States Army's RAH-66 Comanche, as the FANTAIL.

NOTAR

Diagram showing the movement of air through the NOTAR system

NOTAR, an acronym for NO TAil Rotor, is a helicopter anti-torque system that eliminates the use of the tail rotor on a helicopter. Although the concept took some time to refine, the NOTAR system is simple in theory and works to provide antitorque the same way a wing develops lift using the Coandă effect.[8] A variable pitch fan is enclosed in the aft fuselage section immediately forward of the tail boom and driven by the main rotor transmission. This fan forces low pressure air through two slots on the right side of the tailboom, causing the downwash from the main rotor to hug the tailboom, producing lift, and thus a measure of antitorque proportional to the amount of airflow from the rotorwash. This is augmented by a direct jet thruster (which also provides directional yaw control) and vertical stabilizers.

Development of the NOTAR system dates back to 1975, when engineers at Hughes Helicopters began concept development work.[8] In December 1981, Hughes flew an OH-6A fitted with NOTAR for the first time.[9] A more heavily modified prototype demonstrator first flew in March 1986, and successfully completed an advanced flight-test program, validating the system for future application in helicopter design.[10] There are currently three production helicopters that incorporate the NOTAR design, all produced by MD Helicopters. This antitorque design also improves safety by eliminating the possibility of personnel walking into the tail rotor.

Tip jets

Another single main rotor configuration without a tail rotor is the tip jet rotor, where the main rotor is not driven by the mast, but from nozzles on the rotor blade tips; which are either pressurized from a fuselage-mounted gas turbine or have their own turbojet, ramjet or rocket thrusters. Although this method is simple and eliminates torque, the prototypes that have been built are less fuel efficient than conventional helicopters and produced more noise. The Percival P.74 was underpowered and was not able to achieve flight, while the Hiller YH-32 Hornet had good lifting capability but performed poorly otherwise. Other aircraft relied on supplemental thrust so that the tipjets could be shut down and the rotor could autorotate after the fashion of an autogyro. The experimental Fairey Jet Gyrodyne and 40-seat Fairey Rotodyne passenger prototype were evaluated to have flown very well using this method. Perhaps the most unusual design of this type was the Rotary Rocket Roton ATV, which was originally envisioned to take off utilizing a rocket-tipped rotor.An example of a cold jet helicopter is the french Sud-Ouest Djinn, the only tip jet rotorcraft entered into production.

Dual rotors (counterrotating)

Counterrotating rotors are rotorcraft configurations with a pair or more of large horizontal rotors turning in opposite directions to counteract the effects of torque on the aircraft without relying on an antitorque tail rotor. This allows the power normally required to drive the tail rotor to be applied to the main rotors, increasing the aircraft's lifting capacity. Primarily, there are three common configurations that use the counterrotating effect to benefit the rotorcraft. Tandem rotors are two rotors with one mounted behind the other. Coaxial rotors are two rotors that are mounted one above the other with the same axis. Intermeshing rotors are two rotors that are mounted close to each other at a sufficient angle to allow the rotors to intermesh over the top of the aircraft. Another configuration found on tiltrotors and some earlier helicopters is called transverse rotors where the pair of rotors are mounted at each end of wing-type structures or outriggers.

Tandem

Tandem rotors are two horizontal main rotor assemblies mounted one behind the other. Tandem rotors achieve pitch attitude changes to accelerate and decelerate the helicopter through a process called differential collective pitch. To pitch forward and accelerate, the rear rotor increases collective pitch, raising the tail and the front rotor decreases collective pitch, simultaneously dipping the nose. To pitch upward while decelerating (or moving rearward), the front rotor increases collective pitch to raise the nose and the rear rotor decreases collective pitch to lower the tail. Yaw control is developed through opposing cyclic pitch in each rotor; to pivot right, the front rotor tilts right and the rear rotor tilts left, and to pivot left, the front rotor tilts left and the rear rotor tilts right. All of the rotor power contributes to lift, and it is simpler to handle changes in the center of gravity fore-aft. However, it requires the expense of two large rotors rather than the more common one large main rotor and a much smaller tail rotor. The Boeing CH-47 Chinook is the most common tandem rotor helicopter today.

Coaxial

Kamov Ka-50 of the Russian Air Force, with coaxial rotors

Coaxial rotors are a pair of rotors mounted one above the other on the same shaft and turning in opposite directions. The advantage of the coaxial rotor is that, in forward flight, the lift provided by the advancing halves of each rotor compensates for the retreating half of the other, eliminating one of the key effects of dissymmetry of lift: retreating blade stall. However, other design considerations plague coaxial rotors. There is an increased mechanical complexity of the rotor system because it requires linkages and swashplates for two rotor systems. Add that each rotor system needs to be turned in opposite directions means that the mast itself is more complex, and provisions for making pitch changes to the upper rotor system must pass through the lower rotor system.

Intermeshing

Intermeshing rotors on a helicopter are a set of two rotors turning in opposite directions, with each rotor mast mounted on the helicopter with a slight angle to the other so that the blades intermesh without colliding. This configuration is sometimes referred to as a synchropter. Intermeshing rotors have high stability and powerful lifting capability. The arrangement was successfully used in Nazi Germany for a small anti-submarine warfare helicopter, the Flettner Fl 282 Kolibri. During the Cold War, the American company, Kaman Aircraft produced the HH-43 Huskie for the USAF firefighting and rescue missions. The latest Kaman model, the Kaman K-MAX, is a dedicated sky crane design.

Transverse

Transverse rotors are mounted on the end of wings or outriggers, perpendicular to the body of the aircraft. Similar to tandem rotors and intermeshing rotors, the transverse rotor also uses differential collective pitch. But like the intermeshing rotors, the transverse rotors use the concept for changes in the roll attitude of the rotorcraft. This configuration is found on two of the first viable helicopters, the Focke-Wulf Fw 61 and the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223, as well as the world's largest helicopter ever built, the Mil Mi-12. It is also the configuration found on tiltrotors, such the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey and the AgustaWestland AW609.

Quadrotor

De Bothezat Quadrotor, 1923

A quadrotor helicopter has four rotors in an "X" configuration designated as front-left, front-right, rear-left, and rear-right. Rotors to the left and right are in a transverse configuration while those in the front and to the rear are in a tandem configuration.

The main attraction of quadrotors is their mechanical simplicity—a quadrotor helicopter using electric motors and fixed-pitch rotors uses only four moving parts.[11]

Blade design

The blades of a helicopter are long, narrow airfoils with a high aspect ratio, a shape which minimises drag from tip vortices (see the wings of a glider for comparison). They generally contain a degree of washout to reduce the lift generated at the tips, where the airflow is fastest and vortex generation would be a significant problem. Rotor blades are made out of various materials, including aluminium, composite structure and steel or titanium with abrasion shields along the leading edge. Rotorcraft blades are traditionally passive, but research into active blade control trailing edge flaps is performed.[12]

Limitations and hazards

Helicopters with teetering rotors, for example the two-blade system on the Bell, Robinson and others, must not be subjected to a low-g condition because such rotor systems do not control the fuselage attitude. This can result in the fuselage assuming an attitude controlled by momentum and tail rotor thrust that causes the tail boom to intersect the main rotor tip-path plane, or result in the blade roots contacting the main rotor drive shaft causing the blades to separate from the hub (mast bumping).

Abrasion in sandy environments

When operating in sandy environments, sand hitting the moving rotor blades erodes their surface. This can damage the rotors; the erosion also presents serious and costly maintenance problems.[13]

The abrasion strips on helicopter rotor blades are made of metal, often titanium or nickel, which are very hard, but less hard than sand. When a helicopter is flown near to the ground in desert environments abrasion occurs from the sand striking the rotor blade. At night, the sand hitting the metal abrasion strip causes a visible corona or halo around the rotor blades. The corona effect is caused by the oxidation of eroded particles resulting in visible corona.[14][15]

In 2009, war correspondent Michael Yon referred to this corona effect as "Kopp-Etchells effect", to honor Cpl. Benjamin Kopp, and Cpl. Joseph Etchells, recently fallen American and British soldiers, respectively.[16]

References

  1. ^ Rotary Wing Forum [1]. Retrieved: 28 September 2010.
  2. ^ Landis, Tony and Jenkins, Dennis R. Lockheed AH-56A Cheyenne - WarbirdTech Volume 27, p.5. Specialty Press, 2000. ISBN 1580070272.
  3. ^ Model 286
  4. ^ Connor, R. Lockheed CL-475". Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Revised on 15 August 2002. Accessed at archive.org on 3 September 2007. original link.
  5. ^ Cox, Taylor. "Blades and Lift". Helis.com. Retrieved: 10 March 2007.
  6. ^ FAA Flight Standards Service 2001
  7. ^ Alpman, Emre and Long, Lyle N. "Understanding Ducted-Rotor Antitorque and Directional Control: Characteristics Part II: Unsteady Simulations." Journal of Aircraft Vol. 41, No. 6, November–December 2004.
  8. ^ a b Frawley 2003, p. 151.
  9. ^ "NOTAR Fleet Marks 500,000 Flight Hours". American Helicopter Society. Retrieved: 25 February 2007.
  10. ^ "The Boeing Logbook: 1983-1987". Boeing.com. Retrieved: 25 February 2007.
  11. ^ Markus Waibel. "Quadcopter, Hexacopter, Octocopter ... UAVs". IEEE Spectrum, 2010-02-19.
  12. ^ Mangeot et al. New actuators for aerospace Noliac. Retrieved: 28 September 2010.
  13. ^ Jim Bowne, Public Affairs Office, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (February 2004). "These boots are made for flying: Rotor blades get new protective shields". RDECOM Magazine. U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (Provisional). http://www.rdecom.army.mil/rdemagazine/200402/itf_amrdec_boots.html. Retrieved 2009-09-04. "The 'corona effect' is characterized by distinctive glowing rings along metal or fiberglass rotor blades operating in desert conditions." 
  14. ^ Warren (Andy) Thomas; Shek C. Hong;, Chin-Jye (Mike) Yu, Edwin L. Rosenzweig (2009-05-27). "Enhanced Erosion Protection for Rotor Blades: Paper presented at the American Helicopter Society 65th Annual Forum, Grapevine, Texas, May 27 – 29, 2009." (pdf). American Helicopter Society. http://www.vtol.org/f65_bestPapers/productSupport.pdf. Retrieved 2009-09-02. "A secondary concern with the erosion of metal abrasion strips pertains to the visible signature that occurs ... causing a corona effect in sandy environments." 
  15. ^ (pdf) Office of Naval Research Broad Agency Announcement(BAA): Advanced Helicopter Rotor Blade Erosion Protection. United States Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research. p. 3. BAA 08-011. http://www.onr.navy.mil/02/baa/docs/BAA%2008-011_ONRBAA%2008-011.pdf. Retrieved 2009-09-02. "An equally important problem with Ti protection is that a visible corona or halo is generated around the rotor blades at night from the sand impacting the Ti leading edge and causing Ti to spark and oxidize." 
  16. ^ "The Kopp-Etchells Effect". http://www.michaelyon-online.com/the-kopp-etchells-effect.htm. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 

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