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What are Ailerons and Elevators and how do they work?

If you have ever sat in view of the wings on a commercial flight, chances are you’ve spotted the ailerons, a crucial type of control surface used on most modern airplanes. Placed on the trailing edge of the wings, the ailerons are adjustable mini airfoils that can be angled to affect airflow. Further back, on the horizontal section of the tail, there is a similar set of horizontal flaps called the elevators. Rather than simply moving forward in a direct path, airplanes need to be able to change directions in the air. To achieve this, they use a variety of moveable control surfaces that control pitch, roll, and yaw, effectively turning the aircraft along three axes. While they may look relatively similar, the ailerons and elevators each take on a distinctive role, both of which will be discussed further in this article.

On the trailing edge of the wing, the ailerons are small moveable sections at the back of the wing which can be tilted either upwards or downwards by way of a system of hydraulics. When the ailerons on one wing are angled upwards, those on the opposite wing will be tilted downwards. This creates a disruption in the airflow so that if the ailerons on the right are raised, there will be an increase in downforce and a decrease in lift on the right wing. Consequently, as the ailerons on the left wing are lowered, they will experience the opposite, that is an increase in lift. As a result, the aircraft will roll inwards to the right and the path of its flight will curve. When combined with motion by the rudder on the tail of the plane, the vessel can then make a turn in the air.

On the tail of an aircraft, there is another set of horizontal control surfaces called the elevators. As the name would imply, these control surfaces affect the pitch of the plane so it may go higher or lower in elevation. Working in pairs, the elevators can be moved up or down to change the airflow along the tail. When angled upward, the downforce increases on the tail to push it down and bring the nose of the plane up, allowing it to climb. As such, they are always deployed upward during take-off. Conversely, when the elevators are down, lift is increased on the tail, pushing it up and bringing the aircraft’s nose down. This is used to cause the plane to descend, such as in preparation for landing.

Though on a typical commercial flight the elevators and ailerons are used for very controlled directional movements, they may also be used to perform impressive maneuvers. In an aerobatic display for example, ailerons can be used to perform a barrel roll, while flying in a loop involves the skillful use of the elevators. Nevertheless, ailerons and elevators are critical components on airplanes of all types for maneuvering in the air. If you are an airplane owner or operator looking to find components for your latest project or repairs, Purchasing Union has you covered.

With a vast inventory of over 2 billion new, used, obsolete, and hard-to-find components, we guarantee high-grade, durable components such as actuator flaps, steering wheels, actuator rudders, and more. Begin exploring our online catalog of parts today and take advantage of our Instant RFQ service to receive quotes for your comparisons. With representatives on standby 24/7x365, you can expect a reply from one of our industry experts in less than 15 minutes of sending your completed RFQ form.


December 9, 2022
September 23, 2022

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