What Are the Control Surfaces on Airplane Tails?

Of the many elements on a plane, the control surfaces on an airplane’s tail are one of the most essential components to maintain steady flight. A conventional aircraft tail consists of two flat surfaces oriented at right angles to one another: a horizontal stabilizer and a vertical stabilizer. Together, they are referred to as the “empennage,” a word with French origins that translates to “feather an arrow.” This is a good description of the tail section, as just like a feather on an arrow, the empennage stabilizes the aircraft in flight. However, the tail is not simply there to stabilize the plane, but also to control its pitch and yaw. To accomplish this, the tail has control surfaces called the elevators and the rudder, both of which can be moved up-and-down or left-and-right to adjust airflow across the fuselage. To learn more, read on as we discuss two of the most important components on aircraft.

The rudder is the control surface on an airplane’s tail that is used to affect the plane’s yaw so it can turn to the right or left. This flap is located on the vertical section of the tail and can be controlled from the cockpit. When the rudder is tilted so that it is pointing to the pilot’s right, it will affect the airflow so that the plane turns to the left. The opposite occurs when the rudder is tilted to the pilot’s left. Pilot’s combine a change in yaw with roll to effectively turn the airplane in the sky. While simply initiating the roll of the aircraft (tilting one wing downwards while the other moves up) can turn the plane, the rudder is essential for creating enough force from the air to efficiently turn the plane to the left or right with far less drag. Initiating turns is a key role of the rudder, but it is also used to correct yaw when a change in elevation or the airflow pushes the aircraft off its heading. The rudder is also a critical component during emergencies like stalls or spins where it can be used to orient the plane when other flaps, such as the ailerons, must be neutralized.

The other control surface type on airplanes are the elevators. These moveable flaps are located on the horizontal section of the tail and are also controlled from the cockpit to affect the plane’s pitch, tilting the nose up or down across a vertical axis. When the elevators are sloped upwards, they increase downforce on the airplane, effectively tilting the nose downwards. Consequently, when they are sloped downwards, the plane will instead tilt up, allowing it to climb. Using this functionality, pilot’s can move up and down in elevation. As such, the elevators are a critical part of the takeoff and landing procedures. Most airplanes have at least two elevators, one on either end of the horizontal stabilizing fin, however, some larger planes may have more elevators to accomodate for their greater size and weight. Similarly to the rudders, the elevators are not only used to make major changes in elevation; they are also used to adjust for the small diversions that occur mid-flight.

In conclusion, there are a couple types of control surfaces located on the stabilizer fins of an airplane’s tail which pilots can use to control the plane’s pitch and yaw. These surfaces are crucial to turning the aircraft, taking off, landing, and generally affecting the direction of the plane in the air. As such, it is essential to have durable components for these tail sections and the cockpit parts associated. On Aerospace Unlimited, we have an online catalog of over 2 billion new, used, obsolete, and hard-to-find parts which have been subjected to rigorous quality assurance measures, tests, verifications, and assessments to guarantee their reliability in aerospace applications. When you are in need of high caliber aircraft components, we invite you to browse our ever-expanding inventory of parts and request quotes for your comparisons with ease using our 24/7x365 online RFQ service.


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