What is flapping?

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Flapping is the vertical movement of a blade up or down to increase or decrease lift in order to compensate for dissymmetry of lift.

To equalize lift across the rotor disc, the advancing blade flaps up and the retreating blade flaps down.  Flapping modifies the resultant relative wind by moving with or against the induced flow, which changes a blade’s angle of attack.  The effect of the advancing blade flapping up is the same as increasing the induced flow.  The increased induced flow will decrease the blade’s angle of attack as the resultant relative wind is influenced more by the induced flow and less by the (rotational) relative wind.  With a lower angle of attack and the same rotational speed, the advancing blade produces less lift than without flapping.  The opposite is true for the retreating blade.  When the retreating blade flaps down, it moves with the induced flow.  This movement reduces the induced flow and increases the retreating blade’s angle of attack as the resultant relative wind is influenced less by the induced flow and more (rotational) relative wind.

As a blade’s angle of attack changes, so does the blade’s inflow angle.  The inflow angle is the angle between the rotational relative wind and the resultant relative wind.  Other factors removed, there is an inverse relationship between the inflow angle and the blade’s angle of attack.  If the inflow angle increases, the angle of attack decreases, producing less lift.  If the inflow angle decreases, the angle of attack increases, producing more lift.

No Wind Hover - No Flapping

No Wind Hover: No Flapping

Induced Flow (IF): The downwash.
Rotational Relative Wind (RW): from rotation of the blade
Resultant Relative Wind (RRW): combination of induced flow and (rotational) relative wind
Inflow Angle (IA): RW – RRW
Blade Angle (BA): Physical angle of the blade
Angle of Attack (AOA): BA – RRW


Flapping Advancing Blade

Advancing Blade: Flaps Up
Decreases AOA, less lift

Moving the blade up is the same as increasing the induced flow, like walking into the wind verses with the wind. The AOA decreases as the RRW is influenced more the induced flow and less by the (rotational) relative wind.



Retreating blade flaps downRetreating Blade: Flaps Down
Increases AOA, more lift

Moving the blade down is the same as decreasing the induced flow, like walking with the wind verses into the wind. The AOA increases as the RRW is influenced more by the (rotational) relative wind and less by the induced flow.


There are several methods of flapping.  In a fully articulated rotor system, like the 300CB, each blade flaps individually.  In a semi-ridged rotor system, like the Robinson R22/R44, the blades flap as a unit, when one flaps up, the other flaps down.


FAA-H-8083-21A – Helicopter Flying Handbook pg. 2-19
Principles of Helicopter Flight, 2nd Edition, pg. 92
FM 3-04.203-2007 Fundamentals of Flight pg. 1-13, 1-40

Other Helicopter Aerodynamic Principles

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