Aircraft are not flown on wishes and happy thoughts. Thankfully, despite their outward complexity, control of an aircraft can be broken down into relatively simple terms. All fixed-wing aircraft, from crop-dusters to commercial airliners, operate on the same basic principles, and use the same basic controls.
All maneuvering is done on one of three axes: pitch, roll, and yaw. Pitch, also called the lateral or transverse axis, indicates the vertical direction the aircraft’s nose is pointed in, up or down. Roll, also called the longitudinal axis, is the angle the aircraft is banked at, whether one wing is raised and the other is lowered. Yaw, or the vertical axis, is the horizontal direction the aircraft’s nose is pointed, left or right. These axes remain consistent no matter what the aircraft’s orientation is; an aircraft with the left wing pointed straight down would have a “vertical” axis parallel with the ground, and a “transverse” axis perpendicular with the ground.
Fixed wing aircraft have three primary control surfaces used in flight: ailerons, elevators, and rudders. These control surfaces are mounted on the aircraft hinges or tracks that let them move and deflect the airstream moving over them, thus altering the plane’s flightpath. They are connected to the primary controls in the cockpit, the flight stick and foot pedals.
Aircraft Ailerons are mounted on the trailing edges of the aircraft’s wings and move in opposite directions. When the pilot pushes the flight control stick left, for instance, the left aileron will go up, and the right aileron will go down. A raised aileron reduces lift on that wing, while a lowered aileron will increase lift. Therefore, moving the stick left will cause the left wing to drop and the right to rise, and in turn cause the aircraft to roll left and begin to turn left.
Elevators are the movable parts of the horizontal stabilizer, hinged to the back of the horizontal tail. The elevators move up and down together in unison to pitch the aircraft’s nose up and down, causing the aircraft to climb or dive. When the pilot pushes the stick forward, the elevators angle downward, and when he pulls back, the elevators angle upward.
The rudder is mounted on the trailing edge of the vertical stabilizer of the tail. The rudder is connected to the pilot’s foot pedals in the cockpit: pushing the left pedal will cause the rudder to deflect left, and make the aircraft turn left, with the opposite being true for the right.
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