Aircraft Rigging – Rigging Checks (Part One)

in Aerodynamics, Aircraft Assembly, and Rigging

Rigging Checks

All aircraft assembly and rigging must be performed in accordance with the requirements prescribed by the specific aircraft and/or aircraft component manufacturer. Correctly following the procedures provides for proper operation of the components in regard to their mechanical and aerodynamic function and ensures the structural integrity of the aircraft. Rigging procedures are detailed in the applicable manufacturer’s maintenance or service manuals and applicable structural repair manuals. Additionally, aircraft specification or type certificate data sheets (TCDS) also provide information regarding control surface movement and weight and balance limits.


The purpose of this section is to explain the methods of checking the relative alignment and adjustment of an aircraft’s main structural components. It is not intended to imply that the procedures are exactly as they may be in a particular aircraft. When rigging an aircraft, always follow the procedures and methods specified by the aircraft manufacturer.

Structural Alignment

The position or angle of the main structural components is related to a longitudinal datum line parallel to the aircraft center line and a lateral datum line parallel to a line joining the wing tips. Before checking the position or angle of the main components, the aircraft must be jacked and leveled.

Small aircraft usually have fixed pegs or blocks attached to the fuselage parallel to or coincident with the datum lines. A spirit level and a straight edge are rested across the pegs or blocks to check the level of the aircraft. This method of checking aircraft level also applies to many of the larger types of aircraft. However, the grid method is sometimes used on large aircraft. The grid plate is a permanent fixture installed on the aircraft floor or supporting structure. [Figure 2-83]

Figure 2-83. Grid plate installed.

Figure 2-83. Grid plate installed. [click image to enlarge]

When the aircraft is to be leveled, a plumb bob is suspended from a predetermined position in the ceiling of the aircraft over the grid plate. The adjustments to the jacks necessary to level the aircraft are indicated on the grid scale. The aircraft is level when the plumb bob is suspended over the center point of the grid.

Certain precautions must be observed in all instances when jacking an aircraft. Normally, rigging and alignment checks should be performed in an enclosed hangar. If this cannot be accomplished, the aircraft should be positioned with the nose into the wind.

The weight and loading of the aircraft should be exactly as described in the manufacturer’s manual. In all cases, the aircraft should not be jacked until it is determined that the maximum jacking weight (if applicable) specified by the manufacturer is not exceeded.

With a few exceptions, the dihedral and incidence angles of conventional modern aircraft cannot be adjusted. Some manufacturers permit adjusting the wing angle of incidence to correct for a wing-heavy condition. The dihedral and incidence angles should be checked after hard landings or after experiencing abnormal flight loads to ensure that the components are not distorted and that the angles are within the specified limits.

There are several methods for checking structural alignment and rigging angles. Special rigging boards that incorporate, or on which can be placed, a special instrument (spirit level or inclinometer) for determining the angle are used on some aircraft. On a number of aircraft, the alignment is checked using a transit and plumb bobs or a theodolite and sighting rods. The particular equipment to use is usually specified in the manufacturer’s maintenance manual.

When checking alignment, a suitable sequence should be developed and followed to be certain that the checks are made at all the positions specified. The alignment checks specified usually include:

  • Wing dihedral angle
  • Wing incidence angle
  • Verticality of the fin
  • Engine alignment
  • A symmetry check
  • Horizontal stabilizer incidence
  • Horizontal stabilizer dihedral

Checking Dihedral

The dihedral angle should be checked in the specified positions using the special boards provided by the aircraft manufacturer. If no such boards are available, a straight edge and a inclinometer can be used. The methods for checking dihedral are shown in Figure 2-84.

Figure 2-84. Checking dihedral.

Figure 2-84. Checking dihedral. [click image to enlarge]

It is important that the dihedral be checked at the positions specified by the manufacturer. Certain portions of the wings or horizontal stabilizer may sometimes be horizontal or, on rare occasions, anhedral angles may be present.

Checking Incidence

Incidence is usually checked in at least two specified positions on the surface of the wing to ensure that the wing is free from twist. A variety of incidence boards are used to check the incidence angle. Some have stops at the forward edge, which must be placed in contact with the leading edge of the wing. Others are equipped with location pegs which fit into some specified part of the structure. The purpose in either case is to ensure that the board is fitted in exactly the position intended. In most instances, the boards are kept clear of the wing contour by short extensions attached to the board. A typical incidence board is shown in Figure 2-85.

Figure 2-85. A typical incidence board.

Figure 2-85. A typical incidence board. [click image to enlarge]

When used, the board is placed at the specified locations on the surface being checked. If the incidence angle is correct, a inclinometer on top of the board reads zero, or within a specified tolerance of zero. Modifications to the areas where incidence boards are located can affect the reading. For example, if leading edge deicer boots have been installed, the position of a board having a leading edge stop is affected.

Checking Fin Verticality

After the rigging of the horizontal stabilizer has been checked, the verticality of the vertical stabilizer relative to the lateral datum can be checked. The measurements are taken from a given point on either side of the top of the fin to a given point on the left and right horizontal stabilizers. [Figure 2-86] The measurements should be similar within prescribed limits. When it is necessary to check the alignment of the rudder hinges, remove the rudder and pass a plumb bob line through the rudder hinge attachment holes. The line should pass centrally through all the holes. It should be noted that some aircraft have the leading edge of the vertical fin offset to the longitudinal center line to counteract engine torque.

Figure 2-86. Checking fin verticality.

Figure 2-86. Checking fin verticality. [click image to enlarge]

Checking Engine Alignment

Engines are usually mounted with the thrust line parallel to the horizontal longitudinal plane of symmetry. However, this is not always true when the engines are mounted on the wings. Checking to ensure that the position of the engines, including any degree of offset is correct, depends largely on the type of mounting. Generally, the check entails a measurement from the center line of the mounting to the longitudinal center line of the fuselage at the point specified in the applicable manual. [Figure 2-87]

Figure 2-87. Typical measurements used to check aircraft symmetry.

Figure 2-87. Typical measurements used to check aircraft symmetry.

Symmetry Check

The principle of a typical symmetry check is illustrated in Figure 2-87. The precise figures, tolerances, and checkpoints for a particular aircraft are found in the applicable service or maintenance manual.

On small aircraft, the measurements between points are usually taken using a steel tape. When measuring long distances, it is suggested that a spring scale be used with the tape to obtain equal tension. A five-pound pull is usually sufficient.

On large aircraft, the positions at which the dimensions are to be taken are usually chalked on the floor. This is done by suspending a plumb bob from the checkpoints and marking the floor immediately under the point of each plumb bob. The measurements are then taken between the centers of each marking.