Preface to First Edition

During the past decade and a half, several noteworthy textbooks have been published in the previously neglected field of helicopter aerodynamics, spurred no doubt by a growing acceptance world-wide of the importance of the helicopter in modern society. One may cite in this context Bramwell’s Helicopter Dynamics (1976), Johnson’s Helicopter Theory (1980) and Rotary Wing Aerodynamics (1984) by Stepniewski and Keys. The appearance now of another book on the subject requires some explanation, therefore. I have three specific reasons for writing it.

The first reason is one of brevity. Bramwell’s book runs to 400 pages, that of Stepniewski and Keys to 600 and Johnson’s extremely comprehensive treatment to over 1000. The users I have principally in mind are University or Polytechnic students taking a short course of lectures – say one year – in the subject, probably as an ‘optional’ or ‘elective’ in the final undergraduate or early post-graduate year. The object in that time is to provide them with a grounding while hopefully stimulating an interest which may carry them further in the subject at a later date. The amount of teaching material required for this purpose is only a fraction of that contained in the standard textbooks and a monograph of around 150 pages is more than sufficient to contain what is needed and hopefully may be produced at a price not beyond the individual student’s pocket.

My second reason, which links with the first, concerns the type of approach. This book does not aim at a comprehensive treatment but neither is it content to consign problems to the digital computer at the earliest opportunity. In between lies an analytical route to solutions, taken far enough to produce results of usable accuracy for many practical purposes, while at the same time providing a physical understanding of the phenomena involved, which rapid recourse to the computer often fails to do. It is this route that the book attempts to follow. The analytical approach is usually terminated when it is thought to have gone far enough to serve the stated purpose, the reader being left with a reference to one of the standard textbooks in case he should wish to pursue the topic further.

The third reason is one of content. Despite the need for brevity, I have thought it worthwhile to include, in addition to treatments of the standard topics – momentum theory, blade element theory, basic performance, stability and control – a strong flavour of research and development activity (Chapter 6) and of forward-looking, if speculative, calculations (Chapter 7). It might be considered that these items are of such a transitory nature as not to be suitable for a textbook, but my criterion of stimulating the student’s interest is what has determined their inclusion. Certainly they have proved to be interesting in classroom presentation and there seems no reason why that should not be so for the written word.

In addition to meeting the needs of students, to whom it is primarily addressed, the book should have an appeal as background material to short courses held in or on behalf of industry: such courses are increasing in popularity. Companies and research establishments may also find it useful for new entrants and for more established workers requiring a ‘refresher’ text.

Reverting to the matter of brevity, the recent publication Helicopter Aerodynamics by Prouty is a most admirable short exposition, well worth studying as an adjunct to any other textbook: however it shuns the mathematics completely and therefore will not suffice alone for the present purposes. Saunders’ Dynamics of Helicopter Flight is not greatly beyond the target length but as the title implies it is concerned more with flight dynamics than with aerodynamics and is adapted more to the needs of pilots than to those of engineering students already equipped with a general aerodynamic background.

I have taken it as a starting point that my readers have a knowledge of the aerodynamics of lifting wings as they exist in fixed-wing aircraft. A helicopter rotor blade performs the same function as a lifting wing but in a very different environment; and to note the similarities on the one hand and the distinctions on the other can be a considerable fillip to the learner’s interest, one which I have tried to nurture by frequent references back to fixed-wing situations. This again is a somewhat non-standard approach.

Substantial omissions from the book are not hard to find. A historical survey might have been included in Chapter 1 but was thought not necessary despite its undoubted interest. To judge by the work effort it attracts, wake analysis (‘Vortex theory’) deserves a more extensive treatment than it gets (Chapters 2 and 5) but here it was necessary to refrain from opening a Pandora’s box of different approaches. Among topics which could have been included in Chapter 5 are autorotation in forward flight, pitch-flap coupling and blade flexibility but these were seen as marginally ‘second-line’ topics. The forward look in Chapter 6 might have contained a discussion of the potential of circulation control, the only system which is capable of attacking all the three non-uniformities of rotor blade flow, chordwise, spanwise and azimuthal; but the subject is too big and too distinct from the main line of treatment. The reference to autostabilization in Chapter 8 is brief in the extreme but again the choice was between this and a much lengthier exposition in which aerodynamics would have been largely submerged beneath system mechanics and electronics.

In compiling the book I have been greatly helped by discussions with Mr D. E.H. (‘Dave’) Balmford, Head of Advanced Engineering at Westland Helicopters, to whom my thanks are expressed. Other Westland staff members whose assistance I wish to acknowledge in specific contexts are Dr M. V. Lowson (now Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Bristol Univer­sity) for Section 7.10, Mr F. J. Perry for Section 6.6, Mr R. V. Smith for Section 7.11 and Mr B. Pitkin for Chapter 8. Naturally the standard textbooks, particularly those mentioned earlier, have been invaluable in places and I trust that this fact is duly recognized in the text and diagrams.

Formal acknowledgement is made to Westland Helicopters for permission to reproduce the photographs at Figures 2.11,4.10,4.11, 7.6 and 7.7; to Edward Arnold, Publishers, for the use of Figures 2.10, 2.13, 5.1, 5.3, 6.3, 8.5 and 8.6 from A. R.S. Bramwell’s book Helicopter Dynamics (1976); to Mr P. G. Wilby of the Royal Aircraft Establishment for Figures 6.2 and 6.5, which are reproduced with the permission of the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office; and to Dr J. P. Jones for the use of Figures 2.12, 4.2 and 4.4.

My thanks are due to Molly Gibbs of Bristol University who copy-typed the manuscript and to my grandson Daniel Cowley who drew the figures.

J. Seddon

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