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Aircraft Design Characteristics (Part Three) – Lateral Stability (Rolling)

by Flight Learnings

in Aerodynamics

Lateral stability about the aircraft’s longitudinal axis, which extends from the nose of the aircraft to its tail, is called lateral stability. This helps to stabilize the lateral or “rolling effect” when one wing gets lower than the wing on the opposite side of the aircraft. There are four main design factors that affect an aircraft’s lateral stability are as follows: dihedral, sweepback, keel effect, and weight distribution.

The most common procedure for producing lateral stability is to build the wings with an angle of one to three degrees above perpendicular to the longitudinal axis. The wings on either side of the aircraft join the fuselage to form a slight V or angle called “dihedral.” The amount of dihedral is measured by the angle made by each wing above a line parallel to the lateral axis.

Dihedral involves a balance of lift created by the wings’ AOA on each side of the aircraft’s longitudinal axis. If a momentary gust of wind forces one wing to rise and the other to lower, the aircraft banks. When the aircraft is banked without turning, the tendency to sideslip or slide downward toward the lowered wing occurs. [Figure 4-25] Since the wings have dihedral, the air strikes the lower wing at a much greater AOA than the higher wing. The increased AOA on the lower wing creates more lift than the higher wing. Increased lift causes the lower wing to begin to rise upward. As the wings approach the level position, the AOA on both wings once again are equal, causing the rolling tendency to subside. The effect of dihedral is to produce a rolling tendency to return the aircraft to a laterally balanced flight condition when a sideslip occurs.

Figure 4-25. Dihedral for lateral stability.

Figure 4-25. Dihedral for lateral stability.

The restoring force may move the low wing up too far, so that the opposite wing now goes down. If so, the process is repeated, decreasing with each lateral oscillation until a balance for wings-level flight is finally reached.

Conversely, excessive dihedral has an adverse effect on lateral maneuvering qualities. The aircraft may be so stable laterally that it resists an intentional rolling motion. For this reason, aircraft that require fast roll or banking characteristics usually have less dihedral than those designed for less maneuverability.

Sweepback is an addition to the dihedral that increases the lift created when a wing drops from the level position. A sweptback wing is one in which the leading edge slopes backward. When a disturbance causes an aircraft with sweepback to slip or drop a wing, the low wing presents its leading edge at an angle that is perpendicular to the relative airflow. As a result, the low wing acquires more lift, rises, and the aircraft is restored to its original flight attitude.

Sweepback also contributes to directional stability. When turbulence or rudder application causes the aircraft to yaw to one side, the right wing presents a longer leading edge perpendicular to the relative airflow. The airspeed of the right wing increases and it acquires more drag than the left wing. The additional drag on the right wing pulls it back, turning the aircraft back to its original path.

Keel Effect and Weight Distribution
An aircraft always has the tendency to turn the longitudinal axis of the aircraft into the relative wind. This “weather vane” tendency is similar to the keel of a ship and exerts a steadying influence on the aircraft laterally about the longitudinal axis. When the aircraft is disturbed and one wing dips, the fuselage weight acts like a pendulum returning the airplane to its original attitude.

Laterally stable aircraft are constructed so that the greater portion of the keel area is above and behind the CG. [Figure 4-26] Thus, when the aircraft slips to one side, the combination of the aircraft’s weight and the pressure of the airflow against the upper portion of the keel area (both acting about the CG) tends to roll the aircraft back to wings-level flight.

Figure 4-26. Keel area for lateral stability.

Figure 4-26. Keel area for lateral stability.

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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