Types of Rotor Systems
When we think about how aircraft fly, we are prone to automatically thinking about planes, their engines, and how they have to race down a runway in order to generate enough speeds to achieve lift. While rotorcraft such as helicopters follow similar principles of aerodynamics in order to achieve lift, the system they use, rotors, are quite different.
Helicopters are reliant on their main rotors to provide lift, thrust, and control over their flight path. These rotors come in three different systems, each with different characteristics, benefits, and limitations.
Fully articulated rotors are found on aircraft with more than two rotor blades and allows for each individual blade to move in three directions. This can be attributed to a set of hinges the rotor blades are attached to; each blade can rotate about the pitch axis to change lift, move back and forth in plane, lead, and lag, and flap up and down through the hinge independently of the other blades.
Semi-rigid rotors are found on aircraft with two rotor blades. In a semi-rigid system, the two rotor blades meet under a common flapping or teetering hinge at the rotor shaft. This allows the rotor blades to move together in opposite motions like a seesaw. Thus, when one rotor blade tips down, the other will tip upwards.
Lastly are rigid rotor systems. Rigid, however, is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, as these rotor systems still have movement and flexibility in their design. Where this flexing comes from is radically different. Where other designs have hinges, rigid rotor systems use elastomeric bearings, which are molded, rubber-like materials bonded to the appropriate parts. Instead of rotating like conventional bearings, they flex to allow the aircraft’s blades to move as they would in other rotor systems.
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