Helicopter Low Rotor RPM and Blade Stall and Recovery From Low Rotor RPM

Low Rotor RPM and Blade Stall

As mentioned earlier, low rotor rpm during an autorotation might result in a less than successful maneuver. However, if rotor rpm decays to the point at which all the rotor blades stall, the result is usually fatal, especially when it occurs at altitude. It can occur in a number of ways, such as simply rolling the throttle the wrong way, pulling more collective pitch than power available, or when operating at a high density altitude.

When the rotor rpm decreases, the blades produce less lift so the pilot feels it necessary to increase collective pitch to stop the descent or increase the climb. As the pitch increases, drag increases, which requires more power to keep the blades turning at the proper rpm. When power is no longer available to maintain rpm and, therefore, lift, the helicopter begins to descend. This changes the relative wind and further increases the AOA. At some point, the blades stall unless rpm is restored. As main rotor RPM decays, centrifugal force continues to lessen until the lift force overcomes the centrifugal forces and folds or breaks the blades. At this point, airflow will provide no any lift or driving force for the system, and the result is disastrous.

Even though there is a safety factor built into most helicopters, any time rotor rpm falls below the green arc and there is power, simultaneously add throttle and lower the collective. If in forward flight, gently applying aft cyclic causes more air flow through the rotor system and helps increase rotor rpm. If without power, immediately lower the collective and apply aft cyclic.

Recovery From Low Rotor RPM

Under certain conditions of high weight, high temperature, or high density altitude, a pilot may get into a low rotor rpm situation. Although the pilot is using maximum throttle, the rotor rpm is low and the lifting power of the main rotor blades is greatly diminished. In this situation, the main rotor blades have an AOA that has created so much drag that engine power is not sufficient to maintain or attain normal operating rpm. When rotor rpm begins to decrease, it is essential to recover and maintain it.

As soon as a low rotor rpm condition is detected, apply additional throttle if it is available. If there is no throttle available, lower the collective. The amount the collective can be lowered depends on altitude. Rotor rpm is life! If the engine rpm is too low, it cannot produce its rated power for the conditions because power generation is defined at a qualified rpm value. An rpm that is too low equals low power. Main rotor rpm must be maintained.

When operating at altitude, the collective may need to be lowered only once to regain rotor speed. If power is available, throttle can be added and the collective raised. Once helicopter rotor blades cone excessively due to low rotor rpm, return the helicopter to the surface to allow the main rotor rpm to recover. Maintain precise landing gear alignment with the direction of travel in case a landing is necessary. Low inertia rotor systems can become unrecoverable in 2 seconds or less if the rpm is not regained immediately.

Since the tail rotor is geared to the main rotor, low main rotor rpm may prevent the tail rotor from producing enough thrust to maintain directional control. If pedal control is lost and the altitude is low enough that a landing can be accomplished before the turning rate increases dangerously, slowly decrease collective pitch, maintain a level attitude with cyclic control, and land.