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CHAPTER 1
HELICOPTER AERODYNAMICS WORKBOOK
THE ATMOSPHERE
ATMOSPHERIC PROPERTIES
Helicopter aerodynamics is the branch of physics dealing with the forces and pressures
exerted by air in motion. The atmosphere, the mass of air, which completely envelops the earth,
is composed of varying and nonvarying constituents. The nonvarying constituents include
oxygen (21%) and nitrogen (78%). The varying constituents include CO2, argon, hydrogen,
helium, neon, krypton, and water vapor, which will vary from negligible amounts to
approximately 4% by volume (100% relative humidity). Air is a fluid and is affected by changes
in temperature, pressure, and humidity.
ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE
Atmospheric pressure at any altitude is a result of the downward pressure exerted from the
mass of air above that altitude. The air at the surface of the earth will be under a greater pressure
than air further up a given column of air. Pressure altitude is defined as an altitude
corresponding to a particular static air pressure in the standard atmosphere. The standard
atmosphere corresponds to the temperature and pressure of the standard day (15 C, 29.92 or
10MB, 14.7 psi at sea level). Therefore, the pressure altitude of a given static air pressure
corresponds to the actual altitude only in the rare case where atmospheric conditions between sea
level and the aircraft's altimeter correspond exactly to that of the standard atmosphere.
ATMOSPHERIC DENSITY AND POWER REQUIRED
Atmospheric density is also greatest at the earth's surface and the atmosphere becomes less
dense, or contains fewer molecules per unit volume, as distance from the earth's surface
increases. Atmospheric density also decreases with an increase in temperature or humidity.
Heated air expands, causing the air molecules to move farther apart, thus decreasing air density
per unit volume. As relative humidity increases, water vapor molecules, which have a smaller
molecular mass than oxygen and nitrogen molecules, displace some air molecules in a given
volume, creating a decrease in density in a given volume.
Density altitude is the altitude in the standard atmosphere corresponding to a particular air
density. It is pressure altitude corrected for temperature and humidity. Air density affects the
aerodynamic forces on the rotor blades and the burning of fuel in the engine, affecting both
power required and power available. For a given set of atmospheric conditions, the total power
required to drive the rotor depends on three separate requirements, which have a common factor
-- rotor drag. Each power requirement is considered separately, and will be discussed in greater
depth in a later section.
1. Rotor Profile Power (RPP). This is the power requirement to overcome friction drag of
the blades. RPP assumes a constant minimum pitch angle and a constant coefficient of drag
value. As density altitude increases and air density decreases, drag, and therefore RPP, will
decrease. However, blade stall begins sooner, so more of the blade is in stall, increasing profile
power.
1-2 THE ATMOSPHERE


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