Helicopter Controls and How They Work: Cyclic, Collective, Throttle, and Yaw pedals

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The collective or lever is on the pilot’s left. Image by Helen Krasner

Yaw Pedals

The pedals are, unsurprisingly, in front of the pilot’s feet.  They cause the helicopter to yaw, or turn about a vertical axis.

They do this by altering the pitch of the tail rotor.  Increasing pitch using the left pedal will turn the helicopter to the left, and decreasing it with the right pedal will turn it to the right.

It should be noted that French and Russian helicopters such as the Eurocopter and Mil ranges work in reverse so far as increase and decrease in pitch are concerned, but in all helicopters left pedal turns the helicopter left, while right pedal turns it right.

Coordinating the Controls

So far, this probably sounds relatively simple, and indeed it is.  However, all the controls need to be carefully coordinated to make steady flight possible.  For example, moving the cyclic forward causes the helicopter to move forward and speed up.  But, as stated above, it will also start to descend.  So, at the same time, the pilot needs to raise the collective to prevent the descent, and open the throttle, if flying a helicopter without a governor.

Because raising the collective and opening the throttle will cause the helicopter to turn to the right due to the increased power, the left pedal is needed too. Similarly, lowering the collective to start a descent will cause the nose of the helicopter to drop (due to air pushing upwards on the tail), so aft cyclic will be needed, and also right pedal to counteract the reduced power.

Helicopter Controls: Careful Coordination

It is this constant requirement for careful coordination which makes helicopter flying difficult, at least in the beginning.  However, as with driving a car or any other skill, it becomes easier with practice, and eventually it is almost automatic. At least, that is the case for flight at altitude.  Then, of course, there is learning to hover, which is far more difficult.  But that is another matter.

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