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Pretty straightforward: what is the difference between forward flight, straight flight, level flight, and cruise flight in helicopters?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Forward flight is how the helicopter flies in most situations. It flies similar to an airplane in this situation, with pitching up and down to increase and decrease airspeed. This is controlled by use of forward and aft cyclic.

Straight flight is where the tail rotor is set so that it opposes the turning tendency of the main rotor. This essentially prevents the helicopter from yawing while in flight. This is controlled by using the anti-torque pedals.

Level flight is simply when the helicopter is flying at a constant altitude. This does not mean, however that its nose is pointed ahead, or that it is flying forward, merely that it is not gaining or losing altitude.

I'm not sure exactly what cruise flight is. When a helicopter is "cruising", it most likely is maintaining altitude and flying straight ahead, but I don't think there is a separate term for it.

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To be pedantic: Straight also implies in balance since it is possible to have yaw perfectly countered but to be flying anything other than straight. I still have scars on my head from being slapped by my instructor for not having the string in the middle. Isn't it strange how someone had to point it out when you're learning but with the hours comes that natural feeling of discomfort with flying out of balance. I am guessing that cruise flight refers to the attitude and power setting required for range vs speed vs endurance? – Simon Mar 4 '14 at 22:40
the problem with this answer is that you can't control a helicopter with any single control. The slightest change in any input (or no input at all!) requires a change in every other input. There are no "tail rotor pedals" in a helicopter. they are called "anti-torque pedals," which corresponds to the yawing tendency you describe. – rbp Jan 4 at 17:37
@rbp - yes, but adding that qualifier wouldn't add anything to the answer - in such a complex system, I would think it would be understood that changes in one system do affect others – SSumner Jan 4 at 23:17
the "pitch versus power" argument is over, and would have applied even less to helicopters than it ever did to airplanes. – rbp Jan 4 at 23:40

Forward flight in a helicopter means that the the horizontal component of lift is forward of vertical, and no turning component is present. Contrast to turning flight.

Straight flight is forward flight, with the yaw string centered. Contrast to a slip or a skid, or sidways or backwards flight.

Level flight means that the helicopter maintains altitude.

Cruise flight in a helicopter is the flight regime between departure and approach, at a power setting optimized for traveling between locations.

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