What the Controls do…

Ever wondered what the controls in a helicopter are all for? Or even what they are called?

There are four main controls that the pilot is manipulating at all times when flying a helicopter. They have a lot of similarities to how the controls work in an aeroplane, but aren’t named the same because what they are doing is quite different.

The most confusing thing that must be learnt to fly a helicopter, is the secondary effect of all these controls. Moving one means all the others must be moved as well to maintain controlled flight. This means we, pilots, have to use both feet and hands (plus think) all at the same time! We can multi-task!


This is the control the pilot holds in their right hand, people think of it as a joystick.

The job of the cyclic is to control the direction of travel of the helicopter. If it is moved to the right or left, the helicopter will roll to the right or left, if it is moved forward the nose of the helicopter will drop and if it is moved back the nose will rise.

The technical way it works is very complex but to briefly explain it. The cyclic manipulates the direction of thrust produced by the main rotor blades. This is done via a swashplate on the rotor head. The swashplate adjusts the pitch of each of the blades continuously as they rotate. Which results in the lift varying at different points in the blades rotation. Here is a quick video of this being demonstrated.


This is the large lever that sits beside the pilots seat and the pilot holds in their left hand. It moves up and down, and has the same effect on the helicopter making it move up and down, or climb and descend.

Once again the process of making this happen is quite complex. To technically explain how this works, moving the collective flight control, collectively changes the pitch on all the blades.

This then increases or lowers the thrust being made by the main rotor.


This is a twist grip attached to the end of the collective in most helicopters.

It is in the pilots left hand and is used to manipulate the amount of power produced by the engine.

Modern helicopters require a lot less use of the throttle in flight, with systems called correlators and governors helping to make throttle changes to the engine when it is needed, without the pilots input.

Anti-Torque Pedals

These are the two pedals the pilot has their feet on. They move together, pushing one forward moves the other back.

They are connected to the tail rotor, which is the small rotor at the back of the helicopter. This rotor is working to counter the engine’s torque. So anytime the engine’s torque changes, the pedals have to move to keep the helicopter flying straight.

They work by changing the pitch on the tail rotor blades, similar to the collective changing the pitch on the main rotor blades.

In a hover they can be used to turn the helicopter.

The video below is quite long and it is in a different type of helicopter to what we operate, but it gives a good description of the controls and what they do.

Helicopter with holiday lights in the Barossa Valley South Australia

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