Steering an Aircraft: Use Elevators for Longitudinal Control in Planes


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When Applying Backward Pressure on the Elevator Control:

The elevator of a Douglas C-133A deflected upwards. Photo Credit: Mark Jones Jr.

  • The elevators move upwards.
  • The upwards deflection of the elevator, increases the surface area of the elevator exposed to the air flowing above it.
  • A high static pressure region develops over the horizontal stabilizer and a low static pressure region under it. This creates the force of lift and acts downwards from the horizontal stabilizer.
  • This creates a moment of force, the force of lift now acts downwards and pulls the horizontal stabilizer down.
  • The aircraft pitches over its center of gravity, and the tail falls to raise the nose upwards.

Elevators, through the aerodynamic force of lift, provide the pilots with the capability to pitch the aircraft on its lateral axis and thereby gain longitudinal control of the airplane.


Aviation Theory Centre. Aeroplane General Knowledge and Aerodynamics. (2004).

Federal Aviation Administration. Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. (2008). Accessed April 5, 2012.

Federal Aviation Administration. Airplane Flying Handbook. (2004). Accessed April 5, 2012.

Oxford Aviation Services. Joint Aviation Authorities Airline Transport Pilot’s License Theoretical Knowledge Manual. (2001). Accessed April 5, 2012.

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