Monday, July 30, 2007


Stability of an airplane in flight is slightly more complex than just explained, because the airplane is free to move in any direction and must be controllable in pitch, roll, and direction. When designing the airplane, engineers must compromise between stability, maneuverability, and controllability; and the problem is compounded because of the airplane's three-axis freedom. Too much stability is detrimental to maneuverability, and similarly, not enough stability is detrimental to controllability. In the design of airplanes, compromise between the two is the keyword.

Static stability has been defined as the initial tendency that the airplane displays after being disturbed from its trimmed condition. Occasionally, the initial tendency is different or opposite from the overall tendency, so distinction must be made between the two. Dynamic stability is the overall tendency that the airplane displays after its equilibrium is disturbed. If the time unit for one cycle or oscillation is above 10 seconds' duration, it is called a "long-period" oscillation (phugoid) and is easily controlled. In a longitudinal phugoid oscillation, the angle of attack remains constant when the airspeed increases and decreases. To a certain degree, a convergent phugoid is desirable but is not required. The phugoid can be determined only on a statically stable airplane, and this has a great effect on the trimming qualities of the airplane. If the time unit for one cycle or oscillation is less than one or two seconds, it is called a "short-period" oscillation and is normally very difficult, if not impossible, for the pilot to control. This is the type of oscillation that the pilot can easily "get in phase with" and reinforce. A neutral or divergent, short-period oscillation is dangerous because structural failure usually results if the oscillation is not damped immediately.

Short-period oscillations affect airplane and control surfaces alike and reveal themselves as "proposing" in the airplane, or as in "buzz" or "flutter" in the control surfaces. Basically, the short-period oscillation is a change in angle of attack with no change in airspeed. A short-period oscillation of a control surface is usually of such high frequency that the airplane does not have time to react. Logically, the Code of Federal Regulations require that short-period oscillations be heavily damped (i.e., die out immediately).

Flight tests during the airworthiness certification of airplanes are conducted for this condition by inducing the oscillation in the controls for pitch, roll, or yaw at the most critical speed (i.e., at VNE, the never-exceed speed). The test pilot strikes the control wheel or rudders pedal a sharp blow and observe the results.

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