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Load Factors and Stalling Speeds

by Flight Learnings

in Aerodynamics

Any aircraft, within the limits of its structure, may be stalled at any airspeed. When a sufficiently high AOA is imposed, the smooth flow of air over an airfoil breaks up and separates, producing an abrupt change of flight characteristics and a sudden loss of lift, which results in a stall.

A study of this effect has revealed that the aircraft’s stalling speed increases in proportion to the square root of the load factor. This means that an aircraft with a normal unaccelerated stalling speed of 50 knots can be stalled at 100 knots by inducing a load factor of 4 Gs. If it were possible for this aircraft to withstand a load factor of nine, it could be stalled at a speed of 150 knots. A pilot should be aware:

  • Of the danger of inadvertently stalling the aircraft by increasing the load factor, as in a steep turn or spiral;
  • When intentionally stalling an aircraft above its design maneuvering speed, a tremendous load factor is imposed.

Figures 4-45 and 4-46 show that banking an aircraft greater than 72° in a steep turn produces a load factor of 3, and the stalling speed is increased significantly. If this turn is made in an aircraft with a normal unaccelerated stalling speed of 45 knots, the airspeed must be kept greater than 75 knots to prevent inducing a stall. A similar effect is experienced in a quick pull up, or any maneuver producing load factors above 1 G. This sudden, unexpected loss of control, particularly in a steep turn or abrupt application of the back elevator control near the ground, has caused many accidents.

Figure 4-45. Angle of bank changes load factor.
Figure 4-45. Angle of bank changes load factor.

Figure 4-46. Load factor changes stall speed.
Figure 4-46. Load factor changes stall speed.

Since the load factor is squared as the stalling speed doubles, tremendous loads may be imposed on structures by stalling an aircraft at relatively high airspeeds.

The maximum speed at which an aircraft may be stalled safely is now determined for all new designs. This speed is called the “design maneuvering speed” (VA) and must be entered in the FAA-approved Airplane Flight Manual/Pilot’s Operating Handbook (AFM/POH) of all recently designed aircraft. For older general aviation aircraft, this speed is approximately 1.7 times the normal stalling speed. Thus, an older aircraft which normally stalls at 60 knots must never be stalled at above 102 knots (60 knots x 1.7 = 102 knots). An aircraft with a normal stalling speed of 60 knots stalled at 102 knots undergoes a load factor equal to the square of the increase in speed, or 2.89 Gs (1.7 x 1.7 = 2.89 Gs). (The above figures are approximations to be considered as a guide, and are not the exact answers to any set of problems. The design maneuvering speed should be determined from the particular aircraft’s operating limitations provided by the manufacturer.)

Since the leverage in the control system varies with different aircraft (some types employ “balanced” control surfaces while others do not), the pressure exerted by the pilot on the controls cannot be accepted as an index of the load factors produced in different aircraft. In most cases, load factors can be judged by the experienced pilot from the feel of seat pressure. Load factors can also be measured by an instrument called an “accelerometer,” but this instrument is not common in general aviation training aircraft. The development of the ability to judge load factors from the feel of their effect on the body is important. A knowledge of these principles is essential to the development of the ability to estimate load factors.

A thorough knowledge of load factors induced by varying degrees of bank and the VA aids in the prevention of two of the most serious types of accidents:

  1. Stalls from steep turns or excessive maneuvering near the ground
  2. Structural failures during acrobatics or other violent maneuvers resulting from loss of control

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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