# Axes of an Aircraft

The axes of an aircraft are three imaginary lines that pass through an aircraft’s CG. The axes can be considered as imaginary axles around which the aircraft turns. The three axes pass through the CG at 90° angles to each other. The axis from nose to tail is the longitudinal axis, the axis that passes from wingtip to wingtip is the lateral axis, and the axis that passes vertically through the CG is the vertical axis. Whenever an aircraft changes its flight attitude or position in flight, it rotates about one or more of the three axes. [Figure 4-15]

Figure 4-15. Axes of an airplane.

The aircraft’s motion about its longitudinal axis resembles the roll of a ship from side to side. In fact, the names used to describe the motion about an aircraft’s three axes were originally nautical terms. They have been adapted to aeronautical terminology due to the similarity of motion of aircraft and seagoing ships. The motion about the aircraft’s longitudinal axis is “roll,” the motion about its lateral axis is “pitch,” and the motion about its vertical axis is “yaw.” Yaw is the horizontal (left and right) movement of the aircraft’s nose.

The three motions of the conventional airplane (roll, pitch, and yaw) are controlled by three control surfaces. Roll is controlled by the ailerons; pitch is controlled by the elevators; yaw is controlled by the rudder. The use of these controls is explained in Chapter 5, Flight Controls. Other types of aircraft may utilize different methods of controlling the movements about the various axes.

For example, weight-shift control aircraft control two axes, roll and pitch, using an “A” frame suspended from the flexible wing attached to a three-wheeled carriage. These aircraft are controlled by moving a horizontal bar (called a control bar) in roughly the same way hang glider pilots fly. [Figure 4-16] They are termed weight-shift control aircraft because the pilot controls the aircraft by shifting the CG. For more information on weight-shift control aircraft, see the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Weight-Shift Control Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-5. In the case of powered parachutes, aircraft control is accomplished by altering the airfoil via steering lines.

Figure 4-16. A weight-shift control aircraft.

A powered parachute wing is a parachute that has a cambered upper surface and a flatter under surface. The two surfaces are separated by ribs that act as cells, which open to the airflow at the leading edge and have internal ports to allow lateral airflow. The principle at work holds that the cell pressure is greater than the outside pressure, thereby forming a wing that maintains its airfoil shape in flight. The pilot and passenger sit in tandem in front of the engine which is located at the rear of a vehicle. The airframe is attached to the parachute via two attachment points and lines. Control is accomplished by both power and the changing of the airfoil via the control lines. [Figure 4-17]

Figure 4-17. A powered parachute.

Learn more about airplane aerodynamics with the Illustrated Guide to Aerodynamics. This unique introductory guide, which sold more than 20,000 copies in its first edition, proves that the principles of flight can be easy to understand, even fascinating, to pilots and technicians who want to know how and why an aircraft behaves as it does.

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