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In the past few decades, the aviation industry has advanced dramatically and exponentially. With the evolution of our understanding of aerodynamics, the industry and aircraft engineers have continuously produced bigger and better aircraft. To support these enhanced, more sophisticated aircraft, the aerodynamic forces powering control surfaces have also advanced significantly. As a result, aircraft designers and engineers have developed robust, complex aircraft flight control systems that support flight.
To make the control force required by pilots to operate systems manageable, aircraft engineers designed more supportive flight control systems. Aircraft flight control systems can be categorized as primary flight control systems and secondary flight control systems, and it is useful to have an understanding of the common apparatuses belonging to each.
Primary Flight Control Systems
The primary control system set includes the ailerons, rudder, and stabilator (or elevator). These controls are needed as they are essential for safely controlling an aircraft during the entire flight. Even the slightest movement in any of these three flight control surfaces can result in airflow and pressure distribution changes which can affect the lift and drag generated by the combination of control surfaces.
The longitudinal axis of the aircraft is controlled by ailerons. Ailerons are typically attached to the outboard trailing edge of wings and tend to move in opposite directions. These are connected to a control stick or wheel by pulleys, cables, bellcranks, and push-pull table tubes. In general, the downward deflection of the left aileron increases the camber of its wing. This results in an increase in lift on the left wing while the downward pivot of the right aileron will result in decreased lift on the right-side wing, resulting in the aircraft rolling rightward.
A natural and unwanted tendency in an aircraft is adverse yaw, that of which is the tendency of an aircraft to yaw in the direction opposite to the roll. This yaw is caused by the difference in lift and drag of the right and left wings. This effect can be immensely minimized with the help of ailerons which are designed to deliberately create drag when there is an upward deflection.
In an aircraft, a rudder is used as a way to counteract adverse yaw. At high angles of attack, low airspeeds, and huge aileron deflections, the maximum amount of rudder control is needed. Another primary role of the rudder is to control the rotation of the airplane on its vertical axis.
The elevator or stabilator is all about controlling the lateral axis. Similar to the ailerons present in small aircraft, the elevator is attached to controls in the flight deck with the help of many mechanical linkages. With the use of the elevator, pilots can pivot the nose up and down as needed.
Secondary Flight Control Systems
Secondary control systems help in the overall performance improvement of aircraft. Some of the main secondary control systems in aircraft include wing flaps, trim systems, and spoilers.
Flaps are a common high-lift device used in aircraft. Flaps are attached to the trailing edge of wings and help in increasing lift and inducing drag. Flaps provide a trade-off between low landing speeds and high cruising speeds so that they can be extended as needed and retracted when not.
With the presence of trim systems, pilots can rest assured about maintaining constant pressure on all flight controls. Trim systems usually have flight deck controls and are hinged devices that are connected to the trailing edges of the primary flight control systems. These help pilots in setting accurate aerodynamic positioning and in the movement of control surfaces they are attached to.
Spoilers are high drag devices found on certain types of fixed-winged aircraft. These high-drag devices are present in winds for 'spoiling' the smooth airflow over wings, increasing drag and reducing lift. In certain aircraft, spoilers are most often used for the purpose of roll control. When it comes to gliders, spoilers are deployed to control the descent rate at the time of landing.
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