Retreating Blade Stall - Helicopter Emergencies and Hazards

In forward flight, the relative airflow through the main rotor disk is different on the advancing and retreating side. The relative airflow over the advancing side is higher due to the forward speed of the helicopter, while the relative airflow on the retreating side is lower. This dissymmetry of lift increases as forward speed increases.

To generate the same amount of lift across the rotor disk, the advancing blade flaps up while the retreating blade flaps down. This causes the AOA to decrease on the advancing blade, which reduces lift, and increase on the retreating blade, which increases lift. At some point as the forward speed increases, the low blade speed on the retreating blade, and its high AOA cause a stall and loss of lift.

Retreating blade stall is a major factor in limiting a helicopter’s never-exceed speed (VNE) and its development can be felt by a low frequency vibration, pitching up of the nose, and a roll in the direction of the retreating blade. High weight, low rotor rpm, high density altitude, turbulence and/ or steep, abrupt turns are all conducive to retreating blade stall at high forward airspeeds. As altitude is increased, higher blade angles are required to maintain lift at a given airspeed. Thus, retreating blade stall is encountered at a lower forward airspeed at altitude. Most manufacturers publish charts and graphs showing a VNE decrease with altitude.

When recovering from a retreating blade stall condition, moving the cyclic aft only worsens the stall as aft cyclic produces a flare effect, thus increasing the AOA. Pushing forward on the cyclic also deepens the stall as the AOA on the retreating blade is increased. Correct recovery from retreating blade stall requires the collective to be lowered first, which reduces blade angles and thus AOA. Aft cyclic can then be used to slow the helicopter.

Common Errors

1. Failure to recognize the combination of contributing factors leading to retreating blade stall.

2. Failure to compute VNE limits for altitudes to be flown.