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Stalls (Part One)

in Aerodynamics

An aircraft stall results from a rapid decrease in lift caused by the separation of airflow from the wing’s surface brought on by exceeding the critical AOA. A stall can occur at any pitch attitude or airspeed. Stalls are one of the most misunderstood areas of aerodynamics because pilots often believe an airfoil stops producing lift when it stalls. In a stall, the wing does not totally stop producing lift. Rather, it can not generate adequate lift to sustain level flight.

Since the CL increases with an increase in AOA, at some point the CL peaks and then begins to drop off. This peak is called the CL-MAX. The amount of lift the wing produces drops dramatically after exceeding the CL-MAX or critical AOA, but as stated above, it does not completely stop producing lift.

In most straight-wing aircraft, the wing is designed to stall the wing root first. The wing root reaches its critical AOA first making the stall progress outward toward the wingtip. By having the wing root stall first, aileron effectiveness is maintained at the wingtips, maintaining controllability of the aircraft. Various design methods are used to achieve the stalling of the wing root first. In one design, the wing is “twisted” to a higher AOA at the wing root. Installing stall strips on the first 20–25 percent of the wing’s leading edge is another method to introduce a stall prematurely.

The wing never completely stops producing lift in a stalled condition. If it did, the aircraft would fall to the Earth. Most training aircraft are designed for the nose of the aircraft to drop during a stall, reducing the AOA and “unstalling” the wing. The “nose-down” tendency is due to the CL being aft of the CG. The CG range is very important when it comes to stall recovery characteristics. If an aircraft is allowed to be operated outside of the CG, the pilot may have difficulty recovering from a stall. The most critical CG violation would occur when operating with a CG which exceeds the rear limit. In this situation, a pilot may not be able to generate sufficient force with the elevator to counteract the excess weight aft of the CG. Without the ability to decrease the AOA, the aircraft continues in a stalled condition until it contacts the ground.

The stalling speed of a particular aircraft is not a fixed value for all flight situations, but a given aircraft always stalls at the same AOA regardless of airspeed, weight, load factor, or density altitude. Each aircraft has a particular AOA where the airflow separates from the upper surface of the wing and the stall occurs. This critical AOA varies from 16° to 20° depending on the aircraft’s design. But each aircraft has only one specific AOA where the stall occurs.

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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