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Aircraft use several control surfaces to carefully manipulate opposing forces in order to initiate flight. While it is easy to appreciate prominent control surfaces, such as the wing and tail, the ailerons also play a significant role in flight operations. In this blog, we will discuss everything you need to know about ailerons, including their design, function, and variants.
The idea of an aileron predates manned-flight by nearly half a decade. While the early focus in aircraft design revolved around generating adequate lift, it was not well established what methods could be used to facilitate lateral movement and rolling. Early flights, such as those performed by the Wright brothers, implemented a cable-controlled wing-warping system to initiate rolls and turns. However, it was quickly established that this system was inherently less superior than a proposed aileron system.
Ailerons are found on the trailing edge of both airplane wings. They are connected using a cable system that elevates one side as the other is depressed. As the pilot begins to roll the aircraft, the downward-facing aileron will create lift on the associated wing, while the opposite function ensues on the other side. Typically, the aileron is found towards the end of the wing, while some aircraft have them situated closer towards the fuselage. For even more precise movement, some aircraft may be installed with two ailerons on either side.
Like everything in aviation, there are tradeoffs associated with ailerons. Primarily, a phenomenon called adverse yaw can be created during routine operations in which the body of the aircraft rotates on its lateral axis in a direction opposite to the roll. While this occurrence may be significant, especially in heavier aircraft, it is typically always attenuated by the rudder. Another novel technique to counteract adverse yaw is the use of differential ailerons, which force the upward-facing aileron to deflect more than the downward side.
Other less common aileron designs include frise-type, coupled, and flaperons variations. Frise-type ailerons employ a subtle drag-producing technique in which the bottom of the upward-facing aileron slightly pivots into the airstream. The drag produced by this design also offsets the magnitude of adverse yaw. Meanwhile, coupled ailerons force the rudder to move in exact alignment with the ailerons, reducing the workload on the pilot who would otherwise have to adjust the rudder as required. Finally, flaperons delicately combine the function of ailerons and flaps to aid the aircraft in takeoff and landing.
While extremely rare, aileron failure may occur due to an object getting stuck inside the system or a hydraulic system failure. If such an event were to occur, the pilot still has several options at their disposal to maintain proper flight control. First, they may elect to "flick" the aileron by quickly turning the aircraft towards the affected side, thereby dislodging a foreign object. If that maneuver fails, the pilot may still maintain control by offsetting any unwanted rolling by using the rudder. Finally, the pilot may also employ elevator or aileron trim tabs to prevent the unresponsive aileron from causing the aircraft to roll dramatically.
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