How Airplanes Fly: Small Aircraft Controls


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All aircraft, large and small, fly by means of the same basic principles. Image by Helen Krasner

The Rudder Keeps the Aircraft in Balance

The rudder pedals are found near the foot brakes, and the rudder itself is a hinged surface on the rear of the vertical tail fin. In flight, pressing the right rudder pedal moves the rudder to the right, causing the airplane to yaw (turn about a vertical axis) to the right.

Pressing the left rudder pedal will have the opposite effect, causing the airplane to yaw to the left. Although the airplane can theoretically be turned in this way, it is not comfortable or efficient, and the rudder pedals are normally used in conjunction with the ailerons to produce a balanced and comfortable turn.

On the ground, the pilot uses the rudder pedals to steer the airplane and to operate the brakes. During take-off and landing, the pilot of a small aircraft needs to be very careful to only apply pressure to the rudder pedals, and not to the brakes.

Small Airplane Flight: How It Works

That’s really all there is to it! Of course, a throttle is needed to control the engine power, and more complicated aircraft have other controls, too. Also, taking off and landing involve more complex manipulation of the controls, as do manoeuvres such as aerobatics.  However, these are the basic principles of aircraft flight.

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