Aircraft Flight Controls (Private Pilot)

Aircraft flight controls are what the pilot uses to control an aircraft. During this lesson, remember that aircraft flight control characteristics will vary depending on the type of aircraft flown.

Flight Controls

​Flight controls can be as basic as simply connected by cables, pulleys and any mechanical system. More sophisticated flight controls use computers, and fiber optics, which are known as fly-by-wire systems.  

There are two types of flight control systems on aircraft:

  • Primary flight controls

  • Secondary flight controls

Primary flight controls:

All airplanes are controlled along three different axes. To do these, we need to use three main flight controls.

  • Ailerons - Control the roll along the longitudinal axis of the airplane. There are two aileron surfaces, one on each outboard tailing edge portion of the wings. Ailerons move opposite of each other, when one is in the down position the other is in the up position.

  • Rudder -The rudder is connected to the vertical stabilizer, which controls the yaw movement by swinging the tail of the airplane left or right along the vertical axis. The rudder is controlled by the left and right rudder pedals.

  • Elevator - Unlike the Stabilator, the elevators are connected to the aft portion of a fixed horizontal stabilizer. The elevators. The elevators control the pitch or nose up, nose down action along the lateral axis. As the pilot pulls back on the yoke, the elevator deflects up causing the tail of the airplane to move down and the nose to move up.



​When flying at faster speeds flight control inputs should be very little. Whereas flying at slower speeds more flight control input is required.

Three axes:

All three axes all meet together at a central point called the Center of Gravity (CG)

  • Longitudinal axis – runs from the nose to the tail of the airplane (roll)

  • Lateral axis – is from wing tip to wing tip (pitch)

  • Vertical axis–runs from the top down through, to the bottom (yaw)


Secondary flight controls:

There are many different types of secondary flight controls used on aircraft, which consist of:

  • Wing Flaps - Are used to increase lift and drag of an airplane during any angle of attack (AOA). This allows the airplane to fly at slower speeds. The flaps are mounted to the trailing edge of the wing, which can be lowered and raised.

There are four commonly used designs of flaps, they are:

  • Plain flap - These flaps are the simplest of four types of flaps.                                                                                 This flap changes the camber of the wing, along with increasing                                                                                   lift at any angle of attack.

  • Split flap - Is designed to deflect from the lower surface of the                                                                             airfoil (wing). Little lift is created but produces greater amount of drag.

  • Slotted - Most common flap found on both small and large aircraft.                                                                         These flaps increase lift, by allowing air to flow between the                                                                                     flap well in the wing and leading edge of the flap. Large aircraft                                                                                   are designed with either two of three slotted flaps allowing maximum                                                                     drag without losing lift.

  • Fowler flap - This flap changes the camber and increase the area                                                                               of the wing. They are designed to slide backwards on tracks.                                                                               Pilots should be aware when operating this flaps, they increase                                                                               life quite a bit, as while as causing a nose up or down motion                                                                         depending on the type of aircraft.

Other types of secondary flight controls, are:

  • Leading edge devices - these high-lift devices are attached to the leading edge of the airfoil. Common types of leading edge devices are fixed slots, moveable slats, leading flaps, and cuffs.

  • Spoilers - These high drag devices are found on the upper surface of the wing, when deployed they spoil the smooth airflow over the top of the wing reducing lift and increasing drag.

  • Trim control - Can be found on primary flight controls. Is used to relieve the pilot to maintain constant pressure on the flight controls.


Private PilACS PA.l.G.K1a, PA.l.G.K1b

FAA-H-8083-25 (Ch. 6)

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