How Do Ailerons Work on Airplanes?

Ailerons serve as one of the main controls pilots utilize to fly an aircraft, so it is paramount that they have a comprehensive understanding of how ailerons work. To do this, pilots must familiarize themselves with aerodynamics and their effect on air travel. If you are an aspiring pilot, know one, or are just a bit curious, this blog will provide a basic overview of ailerons.

As one of the three primary flight controls found on aircraft, ailerons are a fundamental part of controlling a plane around one of three axes of flight. Each axis has a name, in addition to a movement that is controlled by its respective control surface. For instance, the axis controlled by the ailerons is the longitudinal axis or roll. Meanwhile, the lateral axis or pitch is controlled by the elevators, and the vertical axis or yaw is controlled by the rudders.

In general, ailerons are mounted on the outboard trailing edge of aircraft wings, and when one aileron is deflected upward, the opposite side moves downward. Moreover, they are controlled by turning the yoke or stick located to the left or right in the cockpit. When you turn left, the left aileron goes up, and the right aileron goes down. Similarly, when you roll to the right, the opposite happens.

Keep in mind that ailerons alone do not turn an aircraft. In fact, all that they do is roll the plane left or right. That being said, you will also need rudder inputs to turn the plane in the desired direction. Unlike a car, no force automatically rolls a plane back, straight, and level when you are done; instead, you must apply the aileron to roll into a turn, keep the wheel neutral the entirety of the turn, and roll the plane back to level using an opposite-direction roll.

Types of Ailerons

Aileron designs vary because engineers tweak them to adjust the amount of adverse yaw. However, none of the available designs eliminate adverse yaw completely; thus you will always have to use some rudder inputs.

Differential Ailerons

With these ailerons, pilots can make the raised aileron go up more than the lowered aileron goes down. In this way, the raised aileron will generate additional drag on the descending wing, countering the adverse yaw made by the lowered aileron.

Frise-Type Ailerons

Frise-type ailerons pivot on an offset hinge, allowing the upward deflecting aileron to project below the wing. This creates enough increased drag on the lowered wing to counter the drag generated by the raised wing. Some variations of this aileron will also feature a slot for air to pass over them when they are lowered, making them effective for high angles of attack and low-speed flying.

Coupled Ailerons

Coupled ailerons are manufactured to move the rudder and the ailerons when you move the controls. This is achieved with a simple set of springs between the yoke and rudder pedals.

Other Common Types:


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