OCT 07, 2017 8:41 AM PDT

The Science Behind Helicopter Flight

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard


Unlike airplanes, helicopters don't have super-long wings to control the aircraft in flight. Some helicopters have stumpy wings to help stabilize direction and airflow, but most of the magic happens in the helicopter's rotor blades at the top of the vehicle.

The rotor blades have a distinct shape and orientation that, much like an airplane's wings, pushes denser air underneath to create lift. Mainly, the faster those blades spin and generate lift, the higher the helicopter can climb in the air.

Moreover, helicopters couldn't fly with just one rotor. Most helicopters have two, including a much smaller one oriented sideways in the back. This secondary rotor is critical; without it, the main rotor would make the helicopter move in the opposite direction that it's spinning. The smaller rotor adds stability by counteracting that force.

You've probably also noticed just how loud helicopters are, and that's because they use an active lift-generation method that's continuously working to keep the aircraft in flight. As it turns out, you hear more noise from the rotor blades spinning than from the engine itself; as they rotate, their tips encounter air turbulence, causing vibration and noise.

Depending on the application, helicopter rotor blades come in various shapes and sizes and are made from different materials. Many are intentionally flexible to reduce turbulence and to give the helicopter the best maneuverability possible while in the air.

Helicopters are intricate pieces of machinery and make a plethora of everyday tasks possible. Whether they're intended for sky-based new-reporting, life-saving hospital air-lifts, or military personnel and supply transportation, helicopters play an instrumental role in the modern world.

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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