What are the signs and symptoms a pilot can recognize, that the helicopter is approaching vortex ring state (VRS) and measures should be taken?

A related question discusses how to prevent or recover from VRS, but it does not address the recognition technique. Similar to stalls (which happen unintentionally), being able to identify a worsening situation before the stall fully develops is better than stall recovery.

  • $\begingroup$ You can see the symptoms quite well in this video. NB, see my comments below as to why this is not settling with power, it is vortex ring state. $\endgroup$ – Simon Sep 28 '16 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Simon - I would guess that it started at about :40 in the video, and he'd recovered by about :56? $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Sep 28 '16 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan Exactly. You see it start to shake then yaw left. After that, it's like a bone shaker until he flies out of it! $\endgroup$ – Simon Sep 28 '16 at 18:47

Vortex ring state is characterized by rapid descent and reduced effectiveness of control inputs. At the onset, it is characterized by increased vibration and buffet of the airframe, with uncommanded changes in helicopter attitude. Also, any increase in the collective is ineffective and counterproductive.

From skybrary.aero:

  • Incipient vortex ring conditions are typically:

    • increased vibration and buffet,

    • the onset of small amplitude ‘twitches’ in pitch and evidence of longitudinal, lateral and directional instability.

  • Established vortex ring conditions are characterised by:

    • a very rapid increase in rate of descent towards and beyond 3000fpm,

    • reduced effectiveness of cyclic inputs in roll or pitch

    • the application of collective pitch failing to arrest the rate of descent and usually increasing it.

From FAA Helicopter Flying Handbook- Helicopter Emergencies and Hazards:

A fully developed vortex ring state is characterized by an unstable condition in which the helicopter experiences uncommanded pitch and roll oscillations, has little or no collective authority, and achieves a descent rate that may approach 6,000 feet per minute (fpm) if allowed to develop.

The best measure against vortex ring state is quite simple- go forward i.e. increase airspeed. Basically, you enter into forward flight so that the rate of descent doesn't oppose the induced flow. You need 'undisturbed' airflow over the rotor disc. Power is to be applied after gaining sufficient airspeed. From skybrary:

  • Incipient Stage ... Keep the collective position unchanged and apply forward cyclic to achieve an accelerative (nose down) attitude so as to increase forward airspeed quickly. As soon as a steady increase in airspeed is indicated, and above 30 KIAS, more power can be applied if necessary without waiting until the best rate of climb speed is reached.

    If this action does not resolve the situation rapidly then it is best to treat the condition as established and take the actions below.

  • Established Condition. Recovery can only be effected by changing the airflow around the rotor and will inevitably lead to significant loss of height, which makes recovery from a low level occurrence impossible.

    There are two theoretically possible actions: Moving the cyclic forward and lowering the collective. Combining these actions is likely to produce the quickest recovery with the least height loss.

    Application of forward cyclic should increase airspeed but a large input held for several seconds may be required before significant pitch attitude and consequent speed change is achieved, with a significant nose down attitude resulting. Lowering the collective to reduce power towards auto-rotation, so unstalling some of the inboard portion of the blades, may also be effective but forward airspeed must be gained before power is re-applied during recovery.

Autorotation has also been suggested as a measure for overcoming the vortex ring state (by the FAA handbook, for example), but it may lead to further loss of height, which has to be taken into account. Another issue is that there are some variations between the different helicopter types- in case of tilt-rotor aircraft like V-22, the only way is to go into forward flight.

  • $\begingroup$ This defines what it is, but doesn't address the "measures to be taken", could you elaborate? $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Sep 28 '16 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer I've added it. See if its ok. I'd left it out as the OP clearly said the the linked question discussed recovery. $\endgroup$ – aeroalias Sep 28 '16 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ I read the question wrong as him asking for the measures as well, but I think its good to include here, thanks! $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Sep 28 '16 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ I thought this was called power settling. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Sep 28 '16 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ @CarloFelicione Oooh, you've opened Pandoras' box. In most places, vortex ring state and settling with power are used interchangeably, even in helicopter literature. But they are different states. Put simply, settling with power is when you don't have enough power to stop a descent. It is distinct, and aerodynamically different, to vortex ring state. It can occur when changing from downwind to upwind, when heavy, when overestimating performance etc. $\endgroup$ – Simon Sep 28 '16 at 16:39

VRS is settling of a helicopter in its own downwash. Settling rates can be as high as 6000fpm. To develop VRS you must have all three of the following conditions 1. Speed < ETL. 2. Vertical speed > 300fpm 3. Power on between 20-100% If any one of these conditions is missing, NO VRS settling.

The best technique to recover from VRS is the Vuichard Recovery. Which is a power ON Side slip to the Right (Counter rotating rotors) or left for Clockwise rotating rotors.


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