Archive for March, 2013

Boss weights

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

The tail rotor on Eurocopter’s AS350 AStar helicopter uses weights to generate a Centrifugal force to help balance the forces that exist when changing the blades’ pitch angle. Known as boss weights, exactly how they work is sometimes misunderstood.

Eurocopter uses composite technology in the AStar’s main and tail rotor systems. The helicopter’s two-blade tail rotor uses a single composite spar that runs through both blades. It is clamped in the middle at the hub and pitch changes are accomplished by twisting the composite material. The spar resists the twisting and tries to return to its natural state (it has a 10 degree pre-twist). This force is referred to as a zero-pitch-return-force and is fairly strong. Making the spar thick enough to have the necessary strength also makes it hard to twist. In normal operation with hydraulic boost, the tail rotor servo delivers enough force to overpower the zero-pitch-return-force and twists the spar as necessary changing the blades’ pitch angle. Thus, producing the amount of tail rotor thrust the pilot requires.

The boss weights assist by generating a centrifugal force that opposes the stronger zero-pitch-return-force. Essentially, they help hold twist in the spar reducing the workload on the tail rotor servo. During a hydraulic system failure the pilot must change tail rotor pitch by manually twisting the spar. The centrifugal force generated from the boss weights reduces the amount of pedal pressure required by the pilot to maintain yaw control. To further assist the pilot during hydraulic failures Eurocopter added a yaw load compensator to the tail rotor control linkage in the higher gross weight variants (B1, B2 and B3).

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Power-off Vne

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Helicopters have a power-on never exceed airspeed (Vne) that can be an aerodynamic limitation, a structural issue or based on the onset of retreating blade stall. Some also have a power-off airspeed limitation which will be shown on the airspeed indicator as a red/white hatched line or sometimes a blue line.

During autorotation at high airspeeds it may not be possible to maintain sufficient main rotor RPM even with full down collective.  In an autorotative descent the incoming airflow goes up through the disk to maintain rotor RPM. As a helicopter’s speed increases the airflow becomes more horizontal causing the main rotor rpm to decay. As such, a power-off never exceed speed would prevent the main rotor RPM from dropping too low at high speeds.

However, a power-off never exceed speed could also be based on the vertical fin, as is the case with Eurocopter’s AS350 helicopter. The AS350’s rotor system spins clockwise (when viewed from above) – opposite of most helicopters. Therefore, the tail rotor produces thrust that pushes the tail to the left to counter the torque and hold the fuselage straight. To help reduce the power required by the tail rotor the upper part of the vertical fin is angled 6 degrees to the right to also apply a left force on the tail. The higher the airspeed, the more effective the vertical fin becomes. In autorotation the pilot can neutralize tail rotor thrust with the pedals, however, the vertical fin continues to push the nose right. Moreover, transmission drag wants to turn the fuselage in the same direction as the rotor system causing the nose to go to the right as well. At high airspeeds, the amount of left pedal needed to maintain trim increases and the power-off never exceed airspeed (125 knots vs. 155 knots power-on) insures adequate left pedal to maintain yaw control.