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Flight Controls (Part Five) – T-Tail

in Flight Controls

In a T-tail configuration, the elevator is above most of the effects of downwash from the propeller as well as airflow around the fuselage and/or wings during normal flight conditions. Operation of the elevators in this undisturbed air allows control movements that are consistent throughout most flight regimes. T-tail designs have become popular on many light and large aircraft, especially those with aft fuselage-mounted engines because the T-tail configuration removes the tail from the exhaust blast of the engines. Seaplanes and amphibians often have T-tails in order to keep the horizontal surfaces as far from the water as possible. An additional benefit is reduced vibration and noise inside the aircraft.


At slow speeds, the elevator on a T-tail aircraft must be moved through a larger number of degrees of travel to raise the nose a given amount than on a conventional-tail aircraft. This is because the conventional-tail aircraft has the downwash from the propeller pushing down on the tail to assist in raising the nose.

Since controls on aircraft are rigged so that increasing control forces are required for increased control travel, the forces required to raise the nose of a T-tail aircraft are greater than those for a conventional-tail aircraft. Longitudinal stability of a trimmed aircraft is the same for both types of configuration, but the pilot must be aware that the required control forces are greater at slow speeds during takeoffs, landings, or stalls than for similar size aircraft equipped with conventional tails.

T-tail airplanes also require additional design considerations to counter the problem of flutter. Since the weight of the horizontal surfaces is at the top of the vertical stabilizer, the moment arm created causes high loads on the vertical stabilizer which can result in flutter. Engineers must compensate for this by increasing the design stiffness of the vertical stabilizer, usually resulting in a weight penalty over conventional tail designs.

When flying at a very high AOA with a low airspeed and an aft CG, the T-tail aircraft may be susceptible to a deep stall. In a deep stall, the airflow over the horizontal tail is blanketed by the disturbed airflow from the wings and fuselage. In these circumstances, elevator or stabilator control could be diminished, making it difficult to recover from the stall. It should be noted that an aft CG is often a contributing factor in these incidents, since similar recovery problems are also found with conventional tail aircraft with an aft CG. [Figure 5-11]

F igure 5-11. Airplane with a T-tail design at a high angle of attack and an aft CG.

F igure 5-11. Airplane with a T-tail design at a high angle of attack and an aft CG.

Since flight at a high AOA with a low airspeed and an aft CG position can be dangerous, many aircraft have systems to compensate for this situation. The systems range from

control stops to elevator down springs. An elevator down spring assists in lowering the nose of the aircraft to prevent a stall caused by the aft CG position. The stall occurs because the properly trimmed airplane is flying with the elevator in a trailing edge down position, forcing the tail up and the nose down. In this unstable condition, if the aircraft encounters turbulence and slows down further, the trim tab no longer positions the elevator in the nose-down position. The elevator then streamlines, and the nose of the aircraft pitches upward, possibly resulting in a stall.


The elevator down spring produces a mechanical load on the elevator, causing it to move toward the nose-down position if not otherwise balanced. The elevator trim tab balances the elevator down spring to position the elevator in a trimmed position. When the trim tab becomes ineffective, the down spring drives the elevator to a nose-down position. The nose of the aircraft lowers, speed builds up, and a stall is prevented. [Figure 5-12]

Figure 5-12. When the aerodynamic efficiency of the horizontal tail surface is inadequate due to an aft CG condition, an elevator down spring may be used to supply a mechanical load to lower the nose.

Figure 5-12. When the aerodynamic efficiency of the horizontal tail surface is inadequate due to an aft CG condition, an elevator down spring may be used to supply a mechanical load to lower the nose.

The elevator must also have sufficient authority to hold the nose of the aircraft up during the roundout for a landing. In this case, a forward CG may cause a problem. During the landing flare, power is usually reduced, which decreases the airflow over the empennage. This, coupled with the reduced landing speed, makes the elevator less effective.

As this discussion demonstrates, pilots must understand and follow proper loading procedures, particularly with regard to the CG position. More information on aircraft loading, as well as weight and balance, is included in Chapter 9, Weight and Balance.

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