The Fascinating Subject of Helicopters and All the Parts That Make Them Work

Helicopters are modern marvels, no doubt. However, they are also complex machines, each newer model more intricate than the last. It’s quite fascinating, therefore if you wish to learn more about helicopters and how they work, read on.

You’ll soon find a new appreciation for how this form of transportation manages to get off the ground. Here’s more information on helicopters and how they work.

Why Are Helicopters So Popular?

Why understand the importance of helicopters and how they work? Learning all of the great uses behind this machine will make you feel more excited about learning the complexities that power these metal marvels.

Most notably, they are used to transport trauma patients from one hospital to another. Helicopters also are quick to load, making them useful for rescue missions and for scouting open areas of desert or ocean.

They can also hover in one spot without moving, which not many other pieces of modern aircraft can do.

How Does this Modern Marvel Manage to Stay in the Air?

When people bring up helicopters and how they work, they can’t help but ask this simple question. How does this hunk of metal manage to soar through the air without any hassle at all? There are so many complex parts of a helicopter, but the science behind its flight is similar to that of an airplane.

The initial ‘lift’ must be generated by motors.

Think of this, the next time you’re on an airplane! You may not think twice about how it gets into the air when you’re sipping complimentary drinks while relaxing onboard the cabin.

Furthermore, this lift is created by a process involving airfoils, which are wings that have a curved cross-section to achieve flight. When these airfoils are positioned forward, the wings manage to change the position of the flowing air in the sky. The air is forced down behind the vehicle and power it up into the sky. The helicopter’s engine helps maintain this speed. Finally, the engine helps keep the aircraft at bay.

Once it’s in the sky, the pilot is able to direct the propellers through various levers and the foot pedals.

The Basic Parts of a Helicopter Explained

Obviously, helicopters and how they work can be complicated subjects. But we’ll simplify its anatomy to make the following information easier to understand.

Let’s start with the machine’s main rotor blade.

The Main Rotor Blade

Out of all the helicopter parts on the machine, this one is one of the most critical. This part is similar to an airplane’s wings because it’s what provides that necessary lift in take off.

The Helicopter’s Stabilizer

Stabilizing the craft is just as crucial as getting it off the ground. Thankfully, helicopters are equipped with a stabilizer device. This bar sits right above the main rotor blade. It also helps eliminate vibrations for a smoother flight.

The Helicopter’s Engine

Most helicopter engines run on propane gas. This fuel helps keep the massive engine in the air. Thanks to modern science, it makes the craft fly through the air like it’s as light as a feather.

A helicopter can also utilize a turbine engine. These turbine engines are more reliable, easier to start in the cold, and usually control the vibrations in the craft better.

The Helicopter’s Rotor Mass

This part is what connects the transmission to the craft’s rotor assembly. Though it may seem minor in the grand scheme of things, this section should not be overlooked either.


Auto enthusiasts, you may understand this term. This part works similarly to a transmission in a typical car. It transmits power from the engine to the main cabin. It also uses its own oil supply to lubricate and cool the parts so that it doesn’t overheat.

There are also various parts of the transmission. For example the:

  • main rotor transmission
  • dual tachometers
  • centrifugal clutch — which is made up of an inner assembly and an outer drum on the unit

Foot Pedals

The foot pedals in the craft help give the pilot full control of the copter. This is one of the more obvious features when talking about helicopters and how they work. It also affects the way the direction of the nose of the helicopter moves. When the pilot pushes the pedals to the left, the craft’s nose veers in the opposite direction.

The Helicopter’s Fuselage

If you have ever ridden in a helicopter, this is the part you’re likely familiar with! It’s the body of the helicopter that houses the pilot. These are made from aluminum for a lighter build and easier flying experience.

The Helicopter’s Collective Pitch Lever

This part is what helps move the helicopter up and down while in the air.

The Helicopter’s Cyclic-Pitch Lever

This lever is responsible for another motion — the forward and backward motion. This is also the lever that comes up between the pilot’s legs in the cockpit.

The Helicopter’s Tail Boom

This part of the helicopter extends past the fuselage. It also holds the tail rotor assemblies. This part of the craft is typically made from light aluminum.

Landing Skids

Would you get into a helicopter if you weren’t sure if it could land or not? Probably not. Landing is crucial! Thankfully, the landing skids can help the craft come to a safe halt. This part works the same way brakes do. They are also hollow tubes. Some models may have wheels.

The Helicopter’s Anti Torque Tail Rotor

This rotor stops the craft from spinning around in circles endlessly. It works by resisting the craft’s innate torque reaction. It also provides directional control.

Without this helicopter part, no one would ever want to set foot into this flying machine again!

The Passenger Seats

Helicopters are also equipped with additional seating. Aside from the pilot, most units can carry two to three other people from point A to point B.

The Helicopter’s Air Compressor

The compressor is comprised of two units — the rotor and the stator.

Used air compressors can also be used to replace a unit that has been worn from years of usage.

The Helicopter’s Turbine Engine

The turbine engine’s exhaust outlets simply release expended gases and do not contribute to the forward motion of the helicopter. This is what makes airplanes and helicopters different. Approximately 75 percent of the incoming airflow used cools the engine.

The Helicopter’s Combustion Chamber

The combustion chamber utilizes a mixture of fuel and air. Once this useful fuel and air mixture is ignited within the chamber, it burns and powers the engine. Engineers and pilots know this process as a “flameout,” and the engine must be restarted or re-lit if it happens to go out while in use. Some more modern helicopters are equipped with an auto-relight feature. This automatically activates the igniters to start combustion if the engine flames out.

Parts of the Helicopter’s Main Rotor

These are the larger parts of the craft. However, there are even tinier parts within these mechanisms. The main rotor, for instance, is the heart of the machine. It provides the machine with the ‘lift-off’ technology. It also controls the helicopter laterally. Let’s first discuss the swash plate assembly. This strong device is how the pilot can communicate with the moving vehicle.

Aside from this switch plate, the main rotor also consists of blade grips. This hub connects all of the blades, making it possible to transfer the movements from the swash plate to the blades. The hub connects to the mast, thanks to the Jesus nut. If this were to fall apart, the entire craft would go down.

The Helicopter’s Electrical System

Helicopters can have one of two systems when it comes to the electrical wiring. It can possess either a 14- or 28-volt, direct-current electrical system.

The Helicopter’s Engine Fuel Control System

In order for a helicopter to make it across its journey, it must conserve its fuel effectively. The fuel control system in the unit, in concord with the air induction components, combine. This creates the proper amount of fuel and air to be ignited in the combustion chamber for a safe and steady lift-off.

Fuel Injection

Lastly, another key thing you should know about helicopters and how they work, is that these modern marvels also utilize a carburetor ice system or injection system.

But what does this mean? The effect of fuel vaporization on the decrease in the air’s pressure around the helicopter can cause a rapid decrease in air temperature in the carburetor. If ice forms inside the carburetor, engine failure is a realistic possibility. Carburetor icing may occur during any phase of flight but it is particularly dangerous when you are using reduced power, such as when the pilot is descending from high elevations. An injection system may prevent this.

Is Repairing a Helicopter Difficult?

Now that you know more about helicopters and how they work, one can’t help but wonder if conducting repairs — like hydraulic component repair — is also equally complicated.

Helicopters require a full inspection every calendar year to make sure it’s in excellent condition before takeoff.

How Helicopters Have Evolved

Helicopters and how they work can be complicated. However, these machines haven’t always been this impressive. They started off rather simple. The first unit was created in Connecticut in the year 1939.

It consisted of a single main rotor and a tail rotor design.

However, one of the earliest depictions of a helicopter dates back even earlier than that. Leonardo Devinci drew out plans for what appeared to be his own depiction of a helicopter back between the years1452 and 1519. This early depiction was designed to take flight and utilized a cranking mechanism. Four men were to stand on either side of its spiral design, wind up the cranks, and the device was then to be lifted into the air.

In 1799, Sir George Cayley created a similar machine. It appeared like a glider. However, this simple structure won Cayley the title of the ‘Father of Aviation.’

In 1893, Gustave Vicomte de Ponton d’Amécourt, sculpted a model flying machine using coaxial propellers and a coiled spring. This machine moreso resembles what we know as helicopters today. The lateral flying machine continued to progress until 1942 when Igor Sikorsky created the XR-4. This particular model brought the inventor much success. The U.S. Army gave Sikorsky a contract worth 50,000 dollars in December of 1940. With this money, he built an even more modern version of the aircraft. Years later, he went on to design the”Black Hawk” Helicopter.

As you can see, the flying machine has undergone various different designs and models to get to where it is today. It definitely wasn’t an overnight invention, and it’s been tuned to perfection. Now, we have a machine that is lightweight, effective, and fast.

Wrapping Up on Helicopters and How They Work

Modern technology has blessed the human race with a wide variety of innovations. The helicopter is one of them. However, until you know and understand how complex these machines are, will you truly appreciate them.

This wraps up this segment on the fascinating subject of helicopters and how they work.

Remember this if you ever step foot on a helicopter.


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