Dissymmetry of lift

Dissymmetry of lift is the difference in lift that exists between the advancing half of the rotor disk and the retreating half. It is caused by the fact that in directional flight the aircraft relative wind is added to the rotational relative wind on the advancing blade, and subtracted on the retreating blade.

When the helicopter moves through the air, the relative airflow through the main rotor disk is different on the advancing side than on the retreating side. The relative wind encountered by the advancing blade is increased by the forward speed of the helicopter, while the relative wind speed acting on the retreating blade is reduced by the helicopter’s forward airspeed. Therefore, as a result of the relative wind speed, the advancing blade side of the rotor disk can produce more lift than the retreating blade side. [Figure 2-34]

Dissymmetry of Lift
Figure 2-34. The blade tip speed of this helicopter is approximately 400 knots. If the helicopter is moving forward at 100 knots, the relative windspeed on the advancing side is 500 knots. On the retreating side, it is only 300 knots. This difference in speed causes a dissymmetry of lift.

The difference in lift is far greater than it already looks because lift is directly proportional to velocity squared!

If this condition were allowed to exist, a helicopter with a counterclockwise main rotor blade rotation would experience a “roll to the left” force because of the difference in lift. In reality, the main rotor blades flap and feather automatically to equalize lift across the rotor disk. Articulated rotor systems, usually with three or more blades, incorporate a horizontal hinge (flapping hinge) to allow the individual rotor blades to move, or flap up and down as they rotate. A semi-rigid rotor system (two blades) utilizes a teetering hinge, which allows the blades to flap as a unit. When one blade flaps up, the other blade flaps down.

Dissymmetry of Lift
Figure 2-35. The combined upward flapping (reduced lift) of the advancing blade and downward flapping (increased lift) of the retreating blade equalizes lift across the main rotor disk, counteracting dissymmetry of lift. (Think of a bird- downward flapping causes increased lift.)


The combination of blade flapping and slow relative wind acting on the retreating blade normally limits the maximum forward speed of a helicopter. At a high forward speed, the retreating blade stalls because of a high AOA (angle of attack)  and slow relative wind speed. This situation is called retreating blade stall and is evidenced by a nose pitch up, vibration, and a rolling tendency—usually to the left in helicopters with counterclockwise blade rotation.

Pilots can avoid retreating blade stall by not exceeding the never-exceed speed. This speed is designated VNE and is indicated on a placard and marked on the airspeed indicator by a red line.

Additional Resources

Video by Utahhelicopter ‘s Channel