Last Updated : 14 February, 2007
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The following question came from Jeff Winder

How does dihedral effect the stability of a flying wing?

    I have a question concerning adding dihedral on a HLG flying wing. I have built a 42" flying wing for use in HLG and added about 15 deg dihedral. The wings are swept back, but not near as much as a Zagi. Since I did not know where to balance the plane, I left the battery pack exposed and used tape to hold it down for the first test flights. This plane is very unstable in it's present state. I do not have tip stabs installed as yet, because I thought that the dihedral would eliminate the need to do so. Also do you know the formula for finding the CG on a swept wing? At present, I am just guessing as were it should go.

    All the flying wings that I have seen do not have dihedral. Is this for a reason?

From : Don Stackhouse

Jeff, those are excellent questions.

It appears that your model has several problems.

It sounds like its pitch stability is very marginal, which is the result of a too-far-aft C/G and/or not enough sweep.

On most flying wings, pitch stability comes from either a reflexed trailing edge (where the reflexed portion is performing the function of the stabilizer of a conventional model), or else by a combination of sweep plus washout (where the washed-out wingtips perform the function of a stabilizer). The amount of reflex and/or washout is analogous to the relative incidence ("decalage") between the wing and the stabilizer of a conventional model. In this sense, a flying wing isn't truly tailless, it just has the tail combined integrally with the wing.

In a conventional model, as you move the C/G forward, pitch stability increases but you have to increase decalage (make the wing incidence more leading-edge-up and/or make the tail incidence more leading-edge-down) to hold the same airspeed. The same thing happens in a flying wing; as you move the C/G forward, pitch stability increases, but you have to increase reflex and/or washout to hold the same airspeed.

The problem is, how to decide on a good starting C/G? What really matters is the distance from the C/G to something called the "neutral point". That's the point where if you located the C/G at that point, the stability would be exactly neutral. Balanced at that point, wherever you point the nose of the model, it will keep pointing that direction when you neutralize the controls, with no tendency to return to any particular "trimmed" attitude. If you shove the nose down it will stay down; if you pull the nose up it will stay up.

If the C/G is ahead of the neutral point, then when you pull the nose up and release the controls, the nose will tend to come back down.

If the C/G is behind the neutral point, the model will be unstable, or what's called "statically divergent". If you pull the nose up and release the controls, the model will want to continue pulling up, even to the point of doing a back flip. The Curtiss "Ascender" experimental canard fighter from WW II would do this quite spectacularly in certain flight regimes (it may have been also due to the wing stalling before the canard), which led to a change in the way the test pilots pronounced its name!

So where exactly is this mysterious "neutral point"? That's where things start to get complicated. All kinds of factors enter into that determination, even things like dihedral setup and fuselage shape. For a wild approximation though, figure the aerodynamic center of the wing and the aerodynamic center of the tail, then multiply the length of the tail moment arm by (tail area)/(tail area + wing area). Neglecting fuselage effects (don't count on this method if you're building a scale "Super Guppy"!), the neutral point will probably be close to this distance from the wing aerodynamic center, toward the tail along the tail moment arm line. Put your C/G forward of this point, the exact amount depending on how much stability you want.

So how do you find the aerodynamic centers of the wing and tail? First find the mean aerodynamic chord (MAC). For a straight taper, draw a line equal to the root chord forward from the leading edge of the tip. Draw a line the same size as the tip chord aft from the root trailing edge. Connect the ends of these two lines with a diagonal line across the wing. Now draw a line from the center (i.e.: 50% point) of the root chord to the 50% point on the tip chord. The point where this line crosses the diagonal line is the location of the MAC. There can be some complicating factors, but normally it's safe to assume that the aerodynamic center (AC) of that wing panel is on the MAC approximately 25% back from the leading edge. The tail moment arm is the distance PARALLEL TO THE DIRECTION OF FLIGHT (usually along the fuselage) from the wing AC to the tail AC.

For a flying wing, the same principle holds more-or-less true. You can look at it from the standpoint of the tail area being zero and put the C/G somewhere safely forward of the wing AC. Another approach that's a bit more conservative is to estimate which portion of the wing is acting as a stabilizer and figure it as the tail area, the rest of the wing as the effective wing area, and calculate an approximate neutral point based on the combination of the two, just as if they were wing and tail of a conventional aircraft. Of course all of these are GROSS approximations, but they're better than just guessing, testing and repairing over and over! There are better, more precise (and far more complex) methods, but if you want a quick "rule of thumb" and are willing to accept some inaccuracies in order to get a fast answer, this method will get you in the ballpark. No matter which method you use, even the complicated ones, expect to do some flight testing to fine tune the final results. Also make sure you have a precise way to check C/G. Just like any very short-coupled aircraft, flying wings tend to be extremely sensitive to small C/G changes.

Now for the dihedral question. In a flying wing you have to deal with some contradictory requirements. Often the toughest requirement is providing sufficient yaw stability. Tip fins are one common solution. They act both as fins and as winglets in many cases, supposedly providing yaw stability and improving wing efficiency at the same time. In actual practice, I doubt that very many of them are significantly helping wing efficiency, but they do seem to work ok for the yaw stability requirement.

Another way to provide yaw stability in a flying wing is with sweep. If you yaw a swept flying wing, the wing panel yawed forward will be sticking out more perpendicular to the airflow than the aft-yawed wing. Presumably this will give it more drag, which will tend to yaw the aircraft straight again. The only catch here is that when you increase span you also decrease induced drag. The forward-yawed wing will have a longer apparent span that the aft-yawed wing, so even though it has more parasite drag, it may have LESS induced drag. In most cases the parasite drag dominates and the aircraft tends to straighten out, but it is possible that the induced drag could dominate and make the yaw worse! It's things like this that make the design of flying wings a tricky business.

In general, pitch stability of flying wings tends to be extremely sensitive to C/G changes, and flying wings as a class tend to have a lot of problems finding adequate yaw stability.

So can we use dihedral to help yaw stability? In a conventional tailed design, dihedral is typically used to provide ROLL stability. This is NOT the same as yaw stability. Although adding dihedral aft of the C/G can increase yaw stability, adding equal amounts of it to the entire wing will generally have NO effect on yaw stability. Your addition of dihedral to the entire wing does NOT help satisfy the yaw stability requirements.

Making matters even worse is the effect of dihedral plus sweep. Sweep in a wing has a similar effect as dihedral. The effect varies with angle of attack; at low angles, with near zero lift coefficients, the effect is negligible, but at high angles (such as during thermalling), the effect can be quite strong. The general rule of thumb is that in low speed flight, three degrees of sweep is roughly equivalent to one degree of dihedral.

Now we come to another problem: "dutch roll" vs. "spiral instability" balance. Dutch roll is where the model wants to oscillate side-to-side in both yaw and roll, sort of like a falling leaf. It's the result of having too much dihedral and not enough fin. The opposite problem is spiral instability, where in a turn, the model wants to overbank and tighten up into a "graveyard spiral". It's the result of too much fin and/or not enough dihedral. It's very difficult to develop a model that has just the right balance to solve both problems, while still having good control response and stability in both roll and yaw. BTW, one of the reasons for the excellent handling of our Monarch 'D' is the HUGE amount of development effort we put into getting that balance just right.

Flying wings get especially tricky on this issue. Yaw stability is generally tough to come by for them. Lots of sweep is one way to do it, but that also adds to dihedral effect at most airspeeds. The result can be a bad dutch roll problem, from too much dihedral effect and not enough fin effect to balance it. Tip fins add to yaw stability without significantly adding to dihedral effect.

Another fix commonly seen is to add anhedral (like dihedral, only downward instead of upward). This cancels out some of the dihedral effect of the sweep, so that the yaw stability from the sweep (alone, or in combination with a central fin or tip fins) is enough to keep the dutch roll/spiral stability characteristics in balance. Make sure to just add enough anhedral to balance the sweep's dihedral effect with the available yaw stability; the object is to eliminate dutch roll, not to make the model roll-divergent! The major drawback to this approach is that it doesn't work inverted, so it's probably not appropriate for a slope combat wing. For a thermal wing it might do just fine. Another drawback is that the amount of anhedral required for good thermalling behavior might be enough to cause roll instability at high speeds. For a hand-launch model, which must fly well at both flight conditions, this could be a difficult problem.

In any case, a model with minimal sweep (weak pitch and especially weak yaw stability), no tip fins (even weaker yaw stability), a battery taped to the center section ahead of the C/G (acts like a fin on the FRONT of the model, making yaw stability even worse), and gobs of extra dihedral (even stronger roll stability, but no additional yaw stability) is likely to have a monstrous dutch roll problem. If you haven't seen it yet, I'll bet it will show up as soon as you get the C/G and pitch stability issues under control. Yes, there is a reason why swept flying wings usually don't have much dihedral!

For a lot more on this general subject, I recommend a visit to the B2 Streamlines page ( and Andy MacDonald's Flying Wing Page ( They also have additional links to other pages you might find helpful. In particular, the B2 Streamlines page has a small program for Panknin's formula for calculating the necessary twist and C/G for a swept flying wing.

Flying wings are not tremendously difficult to design and build, but they are less forgiving of design and construction errors (you would be too if your effective tail moment arm was often less than your wing chord!). If you study the theory so you can understand what's happening, and if you do your homework, you can get very good results.

Good luck, and please let me know how your experiments work out!

Don Stackhouse @ DJ Aerotech

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