Components of a Helicopter
Although there are many sizes, shapes, and types of helicopters, most of them share the same major components. Understanding how each of these parts operates can help a pilot more easily locate malfunctions and possible emergency scenarios, and knowledge of the relationship these systems have to one another enables the pilot to make an educated decision and take the appropriate course of action in the event that a problem arises.
The main components of a helicopter are the airframe, fuselage, rotor system, engine, transmission system, fuel system, and the electrical system. This blog will provide a summary of each component and its functions.
- The airframe is the fundamental structure of a helicopter. It can be made from metal, wood, composite materials, or a combination. A composite airframe commonly consists of many layers of fibrous resins bonded together to form a smooth panel. In metal airframes, the most commonly used material is aluminum, although stainless steel and titanium are also popular, especially in areas subject to high heat and stress. To achieve optimal performance and reliability, airframe designers must consider engineering, aerodynamics, materials, technology, and manufacturing methods.
- The fuselage is the outer core of the airframe and serves as the main body section that holds the cabin, crew, passengers, and cargo. Additionally, the fuselage contains the engine, transmission, avionics, flight controls, and powerplant.
- The rotor system is the rotating part of the helicopter and source of lift. The parts of a rotor are the mast, hub, and rotor blades. The mast is a hollow, cylindrical metal shaft extending upward from the transmission. Atop the mast is the hub, which serves as the point of attachment for the blades.
- The blades can be attached to the hub by many different methods and rotor systems are commonly classified based on how the blades are attached to the hub. The three most common classifications are semi rigid, rigid, and fully articulated. Many rotors also feature a swash plate, which converts stationary control input from the pilot into rotating input for the rotor blades or control surfaces.
- The next part of the helicopter is the engine. In general, there are two types of engines used in helicopters: reciprocating and turbine. Reciprocating engines, also known as piston engines, are used in small helicopters and training helicopters due to their simplicity and inexpensiveness to operate. Adversely, turbine engines are more powerful and therefore useful in many different types of helicopters. They produce a great deal of power considering their size but are usually more expensive. Helicopter turbine engines operate differently from those in aircraft. Turbine engines on helicopters generally comprise a compressor, combustion chamber, turbine, and accessory gearbox assembly.
- To transmit power from the engine to the rotors, helicopters utilize a transmission system. The main components of this system are the main rotor transmission, tail rotor drive, clutch, and freewheeling unit. Helicopter transmissions are lubricated and cooled by their own supply of fluids and come equipped with a sight gauge to display the oil levels.
- The fuel system consists of two components: the fuel supply and fuel control systems. The supply system refers to the fuel tanks, gauges, shut-off valves, filters, fuel lines, and in some cases, a primer and pump. The fuel control system is used to control the amount of fuel entering the combustion chamber and regulate the amount needed for the engine to fire.
- Finally, the electrical system comprises an array of sophisticated avionics and accessories. Helicopters feature either a 14- or 28-volt direct currency electrical system. Small, piston powered helicopters get their electrical energy from an engine-driver alternator through the means of a belt and pulley system. On the other hand, turbine helicopters use a starter/generator system coupled to the accessory gearbox. To start the engine, a battery is used, and the current within the system is monitored by an ammeter. Switches also play an important role in the system in selecting electrical components. While helicopters vary greatly from model to model, these parts will be found in virtually every one.
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