How Do Pilots Control Aircraft Through Elevators?

Flight control surfaces permit a pilot to manage the attitude of a fixed-wing aircraft, coming in the form of aerodynamic devices that are spread across the vehicle. Aircraft elevators in particular are flight control surfaces that may be found near the rear end of the aircraft, adjusted by the pilot in order to govern the aircraft’s pitch, angle of attack, and lift. As a device that is commonly relied on during flight operations, pilots should always have a good understanding of its functionality and control so that they may best manage an aircraft safely and efficiently.

As stated beforehand, the aircraft elevators are typically placed on the tail end of the aircraft, implemented onto the trailing edge of each half of the horizontal stabilizer. While the horizontal stabilizer serves to maintain an aircraft’s trim through the generation of an upward force, the elevators themselves manage motion across the lateral axis. In order to adjust the elevators up and down, either manual control or autopilot systems may be relied on.

The elevators will typically move symmetrically with one another, unless the aircraft relies on a fly-by-wire system. With such aviation hardware, the aircraft elevators will pivot differently in order to facilitate control input commands. Elevators are still capable of moving separately from one another in other select aircraft as well, albeit in specific conditions. For instance, if a hydraulic failure occurs and one elevator is unable to adjust itself, there may be a system to disconnect the elevators from one another so that one may still be used despite there being a control surface jam.

In order to manage the positioning of aircraft elevators, a control stick or column is implemented within the cockpit. When pushing the controls forward, the elevator will begin to pivot downwards as a response. With a downward deflection, the camber of the horizontal stabilizer is bolstered in order to increase lift generation. With more lift created at the back end of the aircraft, a rotation around the lateral axis of the vehicle will be achieved so that the nose will be pushed downwards. With the aft movement of the controls, the opposite effect will occur as the aircraft will enter into a nose up change for an adjustment of aircraft attitude.

While the elevator is extremely useful for controlling the nose movements of the aircraft and its attitude, there are often aerodynamic forces that will act against the movement of flight control surfaces and other airplane parts. In order to counteract such forces, small surfaces known as trim tabs are installed to the trailing edges of larger control surfaces. When placed on aircraft elevators, the trim tab will allow for a pilot to stabilize the desired pitch and angle of attack without needing to consistently apply control force to the elevator. While reducing the amount of work on behalf of the pilot, elevator trim tabs also increase flight efficiency through the reduction of drag.

As elevators, trim tabs, and their associated aviation hardware are all extremely important to controlling the pitch and attitude of an aircraft, such parts should always be regularly inspected, maintained, and replaced as necessary to ensure operability and reliability. Buy NSN is an online distributor of marine and aircraft parts, providing competitive pricing and rapid lead-times on a plethora of new, used, and obsolete items that come from top global manufacturers. We invite you to peruse our offerings at your leisure, and our team of industry experts are readily on standby 24/7x365 to assist you through the purchasing process as necessary. Get started today and see why customers continue to rely on Buy NSN for all their operational needs.


January 6, 2021

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