Flight control surfaces are one of the most important parts of a typical aircraft, allowing for pilots to have more control over the aerodynamic forces acting upon surfaces. While many areas that generate lift are fixed, flight control surfaces are adjustable areas that are managed by the pilot through controls present in the cockpit. Coming in numerous forms, flight control surfaces permit a pilot to govern the speed or trajectory of the aircraft as they adjust each surface.
Flight control surfaces are broken up into two categories, those of which are primary and secondary flight control surfaces. Primary control surfaces are the most important as they are relied on during takeoffs and landings to direct the aircraft, and examples include ailerons, elevators, and rudders. Secondary control surfaces are used for adjusting aerodynamics, raising or lowering the amount of lift or drag that surfaces produce. The most common types of secondary control surfaces are spoilers, flaps, slats, and air brakes. While each device has a unique role, many are used in combination during standard operations.
Elevators allow pilots to manage pitch, making it so that the aircraft nose moves up or down in response to adjustments. Elevators come in two parts that are placed on each half of the fixed horizontal stabilizer, and they are controlled with a control column or stick in the cockpit. Moving the control forward causes the elevator to deflect downward for more lift, while pulling the control back deflects the elevator upward for less lift.
For yaw movements along the horizontal axis, pilots use rudders. These primary control surfaces are situated on the vertical stabilizer, and they are relied on for combating adverse yaw and engine failures. Rudders are managed through pedals situated near the pilot’s feet, and left and right pedals allow for left and right turns respectively.
Ailerons are situated on the edges of wings, and they always move in opposite directions from one another when actuated to produce a rolling movement. Ailerons are controlled with a flight deck control device, and the adjustments of lift with ailerons allows for banked turns to be executed with ease. For this to occur, the movement of the ailerons directly creates an unequal amount of generated lift for each wing.
Secondary flight control surfaces like flaps, slats, and slots are all situated on varying parts of the wings. Flaps have a similar appearance to ailerons, though they are closer to the fuselage and generate lift and drag. With their use, pilots can reduce the stalling speed of a wing so that takeoff and landing distances can be minimized. Slats and slots are situated near the leading edge of wings, and they extend out from the surface to adjust the shape of the airfoil. Similar to flaps, slats and slots change the drag and lift required for takeoff and landing. Spoilers and air brakes are also secondary flight control surfaces that are placed on wings, and they disrupt airflow to reduce lift and slow down the aircraft during the landing approach.
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