The structures of a helicopter are designed to give it its unique flight characteristics, such as vertical takeoff and landing, and hovering in place. A helicopter flies because the rotors serve as rotating airfoils that provide lift, similar to how the wings of an airplane create lift. Air flows faster over the curved upper surface of the rotors, creating negative pressure, and thus lifting the aircraft. Changing the angle that the blades meet the wind increases or decreases lift, raising or lowering the helicopter. Tilting the rotor plane of rotation causes the helicopter to move horizontally.
The airframe of a helicopter is made from metal, wood composite materials, or a combination of the two. Usually, a composite component of many layers of fiber-impregnated resins are bonded together to form a smooth panel for the helicopter’s exterior. Tubular and sheet metal substructures are usually made of aluminum to provide the aircraft’s “skeleton,” but stainless steel and titanium are sometimes used in areas with higher stress or heat.
Like fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter fuselages and tail booms are truss-type or semi-monocoque structures of stress-skin design. Steel and aluminum tubing, formed aluminum, and aluminum skin are used to create the framework and the plating that goes over it to form the aircraft’s body. Firewalls and engine decks are typically made from stainless steel because of their higher fire resistance. Because of the multidirectional nature of helicopter flight, wide-range visibility is essential, and large windows made from polycarbonate, glass, or plexiglass are common.
Helicopter landing gear usually consists of tubular metal skids. Some do use landing gear with retractable wheels, however.
Helicopters use both reciprocating piston engines and turbine engines, with turbines being the most common. In both cases they work exactly as they do in fixed wing aircraft and connect to the transmission system. The transmission system transfers power from the engine to the main rotor, tail rotor, and other accessories during flight.
The main rotor is the rotating part of the helicopter that provides lift. The rotor consists of a hub rotor blades and mast. The mast is a cylindrical metal shaft that extends upwards from and is driven by the transmission. At the top of the mast there is attachment point for the rotor blades, called the hub. The blades are attached to the hub, and their rotation creates the lift and thrust that a helicopter needs to fly.
This rotation creates huge amounts of torque, however, which makes the helicopter want to spin uncontrollably. The most common solution is to add a tail rotor to the fuselage, a secondary rotary that is mounted vertically on the tail that spins in opposition of the main rotor’s torque. Other solutions exist however, like mounting two rotors that spin in opposite directions.
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