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Aircraft Design Characteristics (Part Four) – Vertical Stability (Yawing)

by Flight Learnings

in Aerodynamics

Stability about the aircraft’s vertical axis (the sideways moment) is called yawing or directional stability. Yawing or directional stability is the most easily achieved stability in aircraft design. The area of the vertical fin and the sides of the fuselage aft of the CG are the prime contributors which make the aircraft act like the well known weather vane or arrow, pointing its nose into the relative wind.

In examining a weather vane, it can be seen that if exactly the same amount of surface were exposed to the wind in front of the pivot point as behind it, the forces fore and aft would be in balance and little or no directional movement would result. Consequently, it is necessary to have a greater surface aft of the pivot point than forward of it.

Similarly, the aircraft designer must ensure positive directional stability by making the side surface greater aft than ahead of the CG. [Figure 4-27] To provide additional positive stability to that provided by the fuselage, a vertical fin is added. The fin acts similar to the feather on an arrow in maintaining straight flight. Like the weather vane and the arrow, the farther aft this fin is placed and the larger its size, the greater the aircraft’s directional stability.

Figure 4-27. Fuselage and fin for vertical stability.

Figure 4-27. Fuselage and fin for vertical stability.

If an aircraft is flying in a straight line, and a sideward gust of air gives the aircraft a slight rotation about its vertical axis (i.e., the right), the motion is retarded and stopped by the fin because while the aircraft is rotating to the right, the air is striking the left side of the fin at an angle. This causes pressure on the left side of the fin, which resists the turning motion and slows down the aircraft’s yaw. In doing so, it acts somewhat like the weather vane by turning the aircraft into the relative wind. The initial change in direction of the aircraft’s flightpath is generally slightly behind its change of heading. Therefore, after a slight yawing of the aircraft to the right, there is a brief moment when the aircraft is still moving along its original path, but its longitudinal axis is pointed slightly to the right.

The aircraft is then momentarily skidding sideways, and during that moment (since it is assumed that although the yawing motion has stopped, the excess pressure on the left side of the fin still persists) there is necessarily a tendency for the aircraft to be turned partially back to the left. That is, there is a momentary restoring tendency caused by the fin.

This restoring tendency is relatively slow in developing and ceases when the aircraft stops skidding. When it ceases, the aircraft is flying in a direction slightly different from the original direction. In other words, it will not return of its own accord to the original heading; the pilot must reestablish the initial heading.

A minor improvement of directional stability may be obtained through sweepback. Sweepback is incorporated in the design of the wing primarily to delay the onset of compressibility during high-speed flight. In lighter and slower aircraft, sweepback aids in locating the center of pressure in the correct relationship with the CG. A longitudinally stable aircraft is built with the center of pressure aft of the CG.

51UFncHi9pL._SX390_BO1,204,203,200_Learn more about airplane aerodynamics with the Illustrated Guide to Aerodynamics. This unique introductory guide, which sold more than 20,000 copies in its first edition, proves that the principles of flight can be easy to understand, even fascinating, to pilots and technicians who want to know how and why an aircraft behaves as it does.

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