How a Yaw Damper Functions

The yaw damper system encompasses a series of accelerometers and sensors that monitor an aircraft’s rate of yaw. Generally, these are electronically connected to an onboard flight computer that processes various inputs and automatically controls actuators connected to the rudder. Together with the aircraft’s ailerons, the rudder pushes the tail to the right and left to guide the aircraft along this axis. You can think of the yaw damper as an automated pair of feet on the rudder pedals.

In general, the rudder is responsible for shifting the shape of the vertical stabilizer’s airfoil, increasing drag and allowing the aircraft to move accordingly. For further context, yaw motion is defined as side to side movement of the aircraft nose and it is usually caused by the deflection of the rudder. The change in side force generated by deflecting the rudder creates a torque about the center of gravity, causing the airplane to rotate.

It is important to understand adverse yaw when discussing yaw characteristics. Adverse yaw is the tendency of an aircraft to go in the opposite direction when turning and banking. The way in which an aircraft banks is by deflecting its ailerons, those of which are the hinged parts of an aircraft wing located by the tip, also called the trailing edge.

On a jet, a yaw damper is installed to continuously monitor the aircraft’s yaw rates, rapidly neutralizing them by deflecting the rudder so that a “Dutch roll” does not get the chance to initiate. A Dutch roll is a combination of rolling and yawing oscillation that take place when the dihedral effects of an aircraft are more powerful than its directional stability.

Depending on the aircraft in question, a yaw damper may be a mandatory part of its design and must be operational at all times during flight. In fact, some airliners are often deemed unairworthy because they lack a yaw damper. This is especially true above a specified altitude. For example, on the Cirrus SR22, the yaw damper automatically engages once it climbs above 200 feet Above Ground Level (AGL).

For pilots used to operating aircraft with yaw dampers, the transition to an aircraft without them, or with yaw dampers that do not, work is difficult. However, the first few hours of watching an aircraft skid or slip through turns is more than enough time for a pilot to become reacquainted with deciding how much rudder must be added to produce coordinated turns.

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