Drag is the force that opposes the motion of an aircraft through the air. Total drag produced by an aircraft is the sum of the profile drag, induced drag, and parasite drag. Total drag is primarily a function of airspeed. The airspeed that produces the lowest total drag normally determines the aircraft best-rate-of-climb speed, minimum rate-of-descent speed for autorotation, and maximum endurance speed.

The following picture illustrates the different forms of drag versus airspeed:

  • Profile drag is the drag incurred from frictional resistance of the blades passing through the air. It does not change significantly with angle of attack of the airfoil section, but increases moderately as airspeed increases.

  • Induced drag is the drag incurred as a result of production of lift. Higher angles of attack which produce more lift also produce increased induced drag. In rotary-wing aircraft, induced drag decreases with increased aircraft airspeed. The induced drag is the portion of the total aerodynamic force which is oriented in the direction opposing the movement of the airfoil. Think of it as lift which is in the wrong direction.

  • Parasite drag is the drag incurred from the nonlifting portions of the aircraft. It includes the form drag and skin friction associated with the fuselage, cockpit, engine cowlings, rotor hub, landing gear, and tail boom to mention a few. Parasite drag increases with airspeed.

Curve "A" shows that parasite drag is very low at slow airspeeds and increases with higher airspeeds. Parasite drag goes up at an increasing rate at airspeeds above the midrange.

Curve "B" shows how induced drag decreases as aircraft airspeed increases. At a hover, or at lower airspeeds, induced drag is highest. It decreases as airspeed increases and the helicopter moves into undisturbed air.

Curve "C" shows the profile drag curve. Profile drag remains relatively constant throughout the speed range with some increase at the higher airspeeds.

Curve "D" shows total drag and represents the sum of the other three curves. It identifies the airspeed range, line "E", at which total drag is lowest. That airspeed is the best airspeed for maximum endurance, best rate of climb, and minimum rate of descent in autorotation.