Most of the difficulties of transonic flight are associated with shock wave induced flow separation. Therefore, any means of delaying or alleviating the shock induced separation improves aerodynamic performance. One method is wing sweepback. Sweepback theory is based upon the concept that it is only the component of the airflow perpendicular to the leading edge of the wing that affects pressure distribution and formation of shock waves. [Figure 4-60]
On a straight wing aircraft, the airflow strikes the wing leading edge at 90°, and its full impact produces pressure and lift. A wing with sweepback is struck by the same airflow at an angle smaller than 90°. This airflow on the swept wing has
the effect of persuading the wing into believing that it is flying slower than it really is; thus the formation of shock waves is delayed. Advantages of wing sweep include an increase in critical Mach number, force divergence Mach number, and the Mach number at which drag rises peaks. In other words, sweep delays the onset of compressibility effects.
The Mach number, which produces a sharp change in drag coefficient, is termed the “force divergence” Mach number and, for most airfoils, usually exceeds the critical Mach number by 5 to 10 percent. At this speed, the airflow separation induced by shock wave formation can create significant variations in the drag, lift, or pitching moment coefficients. In addition to the delay of the onset of compressibility effects, sweepback reduces the magnitude in the changes of drag, lift or moment coefficients. In other words, the use of sweepback “softens” the force divergence.
A disadvantage of swept wings is that they tend to stall at the wingtips rather than at the wing roots. [Figure 4-61] This is because the boundary layer tends to flow spanwise toward the tips and to separate near the leading edges. Because the tips of a swept wing are on the aft part of the wing (behind the CL), a wingtip stall causes the CL to move forward on the wing, forcing the nose to rise further. The tendency for tip stall is greatest when wing sweep and taper are combined.
The stall situation can be aggravated by a T-tail configuration, which affords little or no pre-stall warning in the form of tail control surface buffet. [Figure 4-62] The T-tail, being above the wing wake remains effective even after the wing has begun to stall, allowing the pilot to inadvertently drive the wing into a deeper stall at a much greater AOA. If the horizontal tail surfaces then become buried in the wing’s wake, the elevator may lose all effectiveness, making it impossible to reduce pitch attitude and break the stall. In the pre-stall and immediate post-stall regimes, the lift/drag qualities of a swept wing aircraft (specifically the enormous increase in drag at low speeds) can cause an increasingly descending flightpath with no change in pitch attitude, further increasing the AOA. In this situation, without reliable AOA information, a nose-down pitch attitude with an increasing airspeed is no guarantee that recovery has been effected, and up-elevator movement at this stage may merely keep the aircraft stalled.
It is a characteristic of T-tail aircraft to pitch up viciously when stalled in extreme nose-high attitudes, making recovery difficult or violent. The stick pusher inhibits this type of stall. At approximately one knot above stall speed, pre-programmed stick forces automatically move the stick forward, preventing the stall from developing. A G-limiter may also be incorporated into the system to prevent the pitch down generated by the stick pusher from imposing excessive loads on the aircraft. A “stick shaker,” on the other hand provides stall warning when the airspeed is five to seven percent above stall speed.
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