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It is explained here that adverse yaw is caused by the difference in induced drag due to the difference in lift being generated by each wing.

I've also seen a couple of websites (including Wikipedia) that argue that this explanation is wrong. They explain the cause of adverse yaw as being the change in the direction of the lift vector during a roll, or what some refer to as the "twisted lift" concept. They usually have a diagram like the following:

enter image description here source

The twisted lift explanation discounts a difference in induced drag due to a change in the amount of lift. They contend that lift and drag remain the same but they twist in different directions. The descending wing has a slightly higher local AoA and the rising wing slightly lower. Since lift is perpendicular to the local airflow the lift vector rocks forward on one wing and aftward on the other.

This explanation seems flawed to me.

  • First of all, in the diagram they show the force on each wing being the same. If that were the case the aircraft wouldn't roll at all, it would ONLY yaw.
  • Second, the vector of lift being perpendicular to the airflow is correct, but that is really just an arbitrary division of the total aerodynamic force. The yaw axis of the plane is not dependent on airflow. It would be dependent on the portion of the force vector parallel to the wing chord, aka the axial force. As shown in another question, depending on a number of factors the force vector in relationship to the wing does not necessarily move forward with an increase in AoA.
  • I can't come up with solid numbers, but trying to figure this out for normal flight speeds it would require a very fast roll to even make a 1° difference in local AoA. I ran numbers for a 3° per sec roll at 120 KTAS on a 36ft wingspan (C172) and came up with a change in AoA of about .27°, and that Is only at the wingtip. It would decrease the closer it got to the fuselage. It doesn't seem like it would be enough to cause a significant change in vector and a resulting yaw moment. Or at least it would be secondary in magnitude to the difference in the drag due to reduction of lift.

Since the changes in lift are being created either by changing the effective camber of the wings (ailerons) or by altering the trailing edge flow (spoilerons) rather than a change in AoA I don't think it's quite so simple to predict that the direction of the aerodynamic vectors will necessarily move in opposite directions as this theory assumes.

If this explanation is correct can someone show me what I'm missing?

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First of all, in the diagram they show the force on each wing being the same.

In a steady roll, i.e. when the roll rate is constant, the forces are the same. A non-zero moment causes angular acceleration, so when the aircraft is rolling with constant rate of roll, the moment must be zero, which means the lift on both wings have to be equal.

That rules out difference in magnitude of lift as the source of the difference and leaves the difference in angle as the only plausible explanation. The explanation is correct.


When you first deflect ailerons, the wing with aileron down does indeed start to produce more lift and the wing with aileron up less lift. This difference causes rolling moment, which causes the roll rate to increase. It already starts causing adverse yaw due to the difference in magnitude of lift too.

However as the roll rate builds up, the angle of attack increases lift on the wing going down and decreases it on the wing going up until the lift equalizes and the roll rate stabilizes. At that point the lift is the same and the adverse yaw is caused by different direction of lift due to different angle of attack.

The fact that ailerons are deflected throughout the roll might lead you to think that there is still difference in lift. But there isn't. The aileron deflection just changes the roll rate in which the forces are in equilibrium.

Also while the angle between realtive wing and the total aerodynamic force (which corresponds to the relation between lift and induced drag) is in general not constant, in this case all the factors it depends on — wing span, air speed and density — are (almost) the same for both wings, so the difference in angle of attack is the main factor for the direction of the resulting force.

And last, but not least: How It Flies is very reliable regarding the physics (and most other things too). I would be very surprised to find an incorrect explanation there.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I missed the difference between an increasing roll rate and a steady roll rate. That dang inertia thing gets me every time. Does the adverse yaw remain linear throughout the roll or does it change as the roll rate steadies? $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jun 9 '16 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW, I don't see good reason why it should be constant, but calculating how it changes would be rather complicated. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jun 9 '16 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe you could add that there are two contributors to adverse yaw: Initially it is $c_{n\xi}$ until the roll rate picks up, and then it is $c_{np}$. In both cases the lift vectors tilt forwards and backwards, and both explanations in Tom's question are equivalent. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Jun 9 '16 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ Is my thinking correct when I say that yaw moment is the axial component when AoA is non-zero? $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jun 10 '16 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ @TomMcW, I am not sure axial component of what, and around which axis, you mean, but most likely no. Moment of force appears when the sum of forces acting on the object acts in line not going through the centre of gravity. A yaw moment is a moment that tends to turn the aircraft around the vertical axis and is caused by difference in drag between the left and right side (wing), which offsets the action point of the total drag to the side with higher drag. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jun 13 '16 at 11:28

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