What Does a Cyclic Stick Do?

The cyclic stick in a helicopter is, by far, the most important of all the controls in a modern helicopter, and yet, it is often the least glamorous. Located between the pilots legs in all but a few helicopter, this stick is the pilots link to telling the aircraft what he wants it to do. But how, exactly, does the funky stick work?

Well, the cyclic controls the direction of flight by changing the angle of attack of the rotor blades. The servo motors that control the angle at which the blades meet air are control-led by the cyclic. In most helicopters, there is also a twist throttle that controls the amount of power the engine produces. This throttle is what I like to refer to as ‘the potential’. As you give the aircraft ‘potential’, now you have to learn what to tell it to do with the power.

For instance, if I have my cyclic perfectly centered, and twist the throttle, with my anti-torque pedals controlled, my aircraft will simply make a lot of noise and act as a big fan. But with a little action for the cyclic, now I can gain altitude and climb while not moving laterally. If I push the cyclic forward, the nose of the aircraft will dip as it attempts to move forward. If I pull the cyclic back, the nose will raise, and the aircraft will being to climb.

You can move the cyclic side to side to cause the aircraft to bank, and of course the anti-torque pedals, which control the tail-rotor, can be used to ‘spin’ the aircraft to point in the direction you want it to go. Once the nose is in the direction you want it to be facing, you can again use the cyclic to control altitude, speed, and direction. However, in a helicopter, the aircraft doesn’t have to be pointing in the direction you want it to go- you can ‘bank’ the aircraft, or have it move sideways without any forward movement or cornering, by simply moving the cyclic sideways.

The majority of newer helicopter also have a radio and, if so equipped, autopilot controls on the cyclic’s handle. Military and law enforcement helicopters, and well as rescue helicopters, may have the controls for a camera system or thermal imager, or a spotlight, one the cyclic handle as well. In a military attack helicopter, the controls for the aircraft weapons are typically mounted on this handle, making the cyclic by far the most important control in the helicopter.

In conclusion, all pilots should be intimately familiar with their cyclic stick control in the aircraft they intend to fly. By simply taking 10 minutes to become comfortable with the different layout of the cyclic, and of course performing a pre-flight by moving the actuating the cyclic to engage the servos up in the rotor assembly, you can be assured that you’ll avea great and safe flight.