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Flight Control Systems (Part One)

in Flight Controls

Flight Controls

Aircraft flight control systems consist of primary and secondary systems. The ailerons, elevator (or stabilator), and rudder constitute the primary control system and are required to control an aircraft safely during flight. Wing flaps, leading edge devices, spoilers, and trim systems constitute the secondary control system and improve the performance characteristics of the airplane or relieve the pilot of excessive control forces.

Primary Flight Controls

Aircraft control systems are carefully designed to provide adequate responsiveness to control inputs while allowing a natural feel. At low airspeeds, the controls usually feel soft and sluggish, and the aircraft responds slowly to control applications. At higher airspeeds, the controls become increasingly firm and aircraft response is more rapid.

Movement of any of the three primary flight control surfaces (ailerons, elevator or stabilator, or rudder), changes the airflow and pressure distribution over and around the airfoil. These changes affect the lift and drag produced by the airfoil/control surface combination, and allow a pilot to control the aircraft about its three axes of rotation.

Design features limit the amount of deflection of flight control surfaces. For example, control-stop mechanisms may be incorporated into the flight control linkages, or movement of the control column and/or rudder pedals may be limited. The purpose of these design limits is to prevent the pilot from inadvertently overcontrolling and overstressing the aircraft during normal maneuvers.

A properly designed airplane is stable and easily controlled during normal maneuvering. Control surface inputs cause movement about the three axes of rotation. The types of stability an airplane exhibits also relate to the three axes of rotation. [Figure 5-4]

Figure 5-4. Airplane controls, movement, axes of rotation, and type of stability
Figure 5-4. Airplane controls, movement, axes of rotation, and type of stability


Ailerons control roll about the longitudinal axis. The ailerons are attached to the outboard trailing edge of each wing and move in the opposite direction from each other. Ailerons are connected by cables, bellcranks, pulleys and/or push-pull tubes to a control wheel or control stick.

Moving the control wheel or control stick to the right causes the right aileron to deflect upward and the left aileron to deflect downward. The upward deflection of the right aileron decreases the camber resulting in decreased lift on the right wing. The corresponding downward deflection of the left aileron increases the camber resulting in increased lift on the left wing. Thus, the increased lift on the left wing and the decreased lift on the right wing causes the airplane to roll to the right.

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