Handling qualities is one of the two principal regimes in the science of flight test (the other being performance). Handling qualities involves the study and evaluation of the stability and control characteristics of an aircraft. They have a critical bearing on the safety of flight and on the ease of controlling an airplane in steady flight and in maneuvers.
Relation to stability
To understand the discipline of handling qualities, the concept of stability should be understood. Stability can be defined only when the vehicle is in trim; that is, there are no unbalanced forces or moments acting on the vehicle to cause it to deviate from steady flight. If this condition exists, and if the vehicle is disturbed, stability refers to the tendency of the vehicle to return to the trimmed condition. If the vehicle initially tends to return to a trimmed condition, it is said to be statically stable. If it continues to approach the trimmed condition without overshooting, the motion is called a subsidence. If the motion causes the vehicle to overshoot the trimmed condition, it may oscillate back and forth. If this oscillation damps out, the motion is called a damped oscillation and the vehicle is said to be dynamically stable. On the other hand, if the motion increases in amplitude, the vehicle is said to be dynamically unstable.
The theory of stability of airplanes was worked out by G. H. Bryan in England in 1904. This theory is essentially equivalent to the theory taught to aeronautical students today and was a remarkable intellectual achievement considering that at the time Bryan developed the theory, he had not even heard of the Wright brothers' first flight. Because of the complication of the theory and the tedious computations required in its use, it was rarely applied by airplane designers. Obviously, to fly successfully, pilotless airplanes had to be dynamically stable. The airplane flown by the Wright brothers, and most airplanes flown thereafter, were not stable, but by trial and error, designers developed a few planes that had satisfactory flying qualities. Many other airplanes, however, had poor flying qualities, which sometimes resulted in crashes.
Bryan showed that the stability characteristics of airplanes could be separated into longitudinal and lateral groups with the corresponding motions called modes of motion. These modes of motion were either aperiodic, which means that the airplane steadily approaches or diverges from a trimmed condition, or oscillatory, which means that the airplane oscillates about the trim condition. The longitudinal modes of a statically stable airplane following a disturbance were shown to consist of a long-period oscillation called the phugoid oscillation, usually with a period in seconds about one-quarter of the airspeed in miles per hour and a short-period oscillation with a period of only a few seconds. The lateral motion had three modes of motion: an aperiodic mode called the spiral mode that could be a divergence or subsidence, a heavily damped aperiodic mode called the roll subsidence, and a short-period oscillation, usually poorly damped, called the Dutch roll mode.
Some early airplane designers attempted to make airplanes that were dynamically stable, but it was found that the requirements for stability conflicted with those for satisfactory flying qualities. Meanwhile, no information was available to guide the designer as to just what characteristics should be incorporated to provide satisfactory flying qualities.
By the 1930s, there was a general feeling that airplanes should be dynamically stable, but some aeronautical engineers were starting to recognize the conflict between the requirements for stability and flying qualities. To resolve this question, Edward Warner, who was working as a consultant to the Douglas Aircraft Company on the design of the DC-4, a large four-engine transport airplane, made the first effort in the United States to write a set of requirements for satisfactory flying qualities. Dr. Warner, a member of the main committee of the NACA, also requested that a flight study be made to determine the flying qualities of an airplane along the lines of the suggested requirements. This study was conducted by Hartley A. Soulé of Langley. Entitled Preliminary Investigation of the Flying Qualities of Airplanes, Soulé's report showed several areas in which the suggested requirements needed revision and showed the need for more research on other types of airplanes. As a result, a program was started by Robert R. Gilruth with Melvin N. Gough as the chief test pilot.
Evaluation of handling qualities
The technique for the study of flying qualities requirements used by Gilruth was first to install instruments to record relevant quantities such as control positions and forces, airplane angular velocities, linear accelerations, airspeed, and altitude. Then a program of specified flight conditions and maneuvers was flown by an experienced test pilot. After the flight, data were transcribed from the records and the results were correlated with pilot opinion. This approach would be considered routine today, but it was a notable original contribution by Gilruth that took advantage of the flight recording instruments already available at Langley and the variety of airplanes available for tests under comparable conditions.
An important quantity in handling qualities measurements in turns or pull-ups is the variation of control force on the control stick or wheel with the value of acceleration normal to the flight direction expressed in g units. This quantity is usually called the force per g.
Relation to Spacecraft
Handling qualities are those characteristics of a flight vehicle that govern the ease and precision with which a pilot is able to perform a flying task. The way in which particular vehicle factors affect handling qualities has been studied in aircraft for decades, and reference standards for the handling qualities of both fixed-wing aircraft and rotary-wing aircraft have been developed and are now in common use. These standards define a subset of the dynamics and control design space that provides good handling qualities for a given vehicle type and flying task. A new generation of spacecraft now under development by NASA to replace the Space Shuttle and return astronauts to the Moon will have a manual control capability for several mission tasks, and the ease and precision with which pilots can execute these tasks will have an important effect on performance, mission risk and training costs. No reference standards currently exist for handling qualities of piloted spacecraft.
- Flight test
- Cooper-Harper rating scale
- Pilot-induced oscillation
- Longitudinal static stability
- Flight envelope
- Malcolm J. Abzug, E. Eugene Larrabee (2002). Airplane stability and control: a history of the technologies that made aviation possible. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80992-4.
- Cooper, G.E. and Harper, R.P., “The Use of Pilot Rating in the Evaluation of Aircraft Handling Qualities,” NASA TN D-5153, April 1969
- Gilruth, R.R., “Requirements for Satisfactory Flying Qualities of Airplanes,” NACA TR 755, 1943
- “Military Standard, Flying Qualities of Piloted Airplanes,” MIL-STD-1797, March 1987.
- Aeronautical Design Standard, Performance Specification: Handling Qualities Requirements for Military Rotorcraft,” ADS-33, May 1996
- William Hewitt Phillips. "Flying Qualities". Journey in Aeornautical Research: A Career at NASA Langley Research Center. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
- Airplane Stability and Control by Malcolm L. Abzug
- Stengel R F: Flight Dynamics. Princeton University Press 2004, ISBN 0-691-11407-2.