A Guide to Elevators

Elevators are flight control surfaces found at the rear of an aircraft which control the aircraft's pitch, angle of attack, and the lift of the wing. They are typically attached to the tailplane or horizontal stabilizer via a hinge. In some cases, the elevator may be the only pitch control surface present, and are sometimes located at the front of the aircraft or integrated into a rear stabilator - a flight control surface that combines a stabilizer and elevator.

The horizontal stabilizer and elevator both contribute to pitch stability, but only the elevators offer pitch control. They do this by adjusting the downward force created by the stabilizer. An increased downward force produced by an up elevator forces the tail down and the nose up. At constant speed, the wing's increased angle of attack causes more lift to be produced, propelling the aircraft upwards. However, the drag and power demand increase as well. When the elevator is down, a decreased downward force at the tail causes the tail to rise and the nose to lower. At constant speed, this decrease in angle of attack diminishes the lift, accelerating the aircraft downwards.

The elevator is a primary flight control surface that controls movement about the lateral axis of an aircraft. This movement is known as pitch. Most aircraft have two elevators, one mounted on the trailing edge of each side of the horizontal stabilizer. When a control input is made, either manually or by autopilot, the elevators move symmetrically. However, in some fly-by-wire controlled aircraft, they move differently when necessary to meet the control input demands. Furthermore, some aircraft types have systems in place to disconnect the right and left elevators from each other in the event of a control surface jam. Other aircraft types use various hydraulic systems to power the left and right elevators to ensure that at least one surface is in operation during a hydraulic system failure.

The elevators respond to a forward or aft movement of the control column or control stick. When the pilot moves the controls forward, the elevator surface is deflected downwards. This increases the camber of the horizontal stabilizer. Camber is defined as the degree of curvature of an aerofoil from the leading edge to the trailing edge. The increased camber results in an increase in lift. The added lift on the tail surface leads to rotation around the lateral axis of the aircraft and causes a nose-down change in aircraft attitude. With an aft movement of the flight deck controls, the opposite of this occurs.

Elevators are commonly part of the tail, found at the rear of an aircraft. In some aircraft, pitch-control surfaces are at the front, ahead of the wing. In a two-surface aircraft, this configuration is known as a canard or tandem wing. Early aircraft, such as those made by the Wright Brothers, were of the canard type. The Flying Flea and Rutan Quickie are two notable aircraft that utilize the tandem type configuration. Early three-surface aircraft had front elevators, and modern three-surface aircraft frequently have both a front canard and rear elevators.

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March 20, 2023

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