Flight Control Surfaces (Part Three)

in Aircraft Structures

Tabs

The force of the air against a control surface during the high speed of flight can make it difficult to move and hold that control surface in the deflected position. A control surface might also be too sensitive for similar reasons. Several different tabs are used to aid with these types of problems. The table in Figure 1-69 summarizes the various tabs and their uses.


Figure 1-69. Various tabs and their uses.

Figure 1-69. Various tabs and their uses. [click image to enlarge]

While in flight, it is desirable for the pilot to be able to take his or her hands and feet off of the controls and have the aircraft maintain its flight condition. Trims tabs are designed to allow this. Most trim tabs are small movable surfaces located on the trailing edge of a primary flight control surface. A small movement of the tab in the direction opposite of the direction the flight control surface is deflected, causing air to strike the tab, in turn producing a force that aids in maintaining the flight control surface in the desired position. Through linkage set from the cockpit, the tab can be positioned so that it is actually holding the control surface in position rather than the pilot. Therefore, elevator tabs are used to maintain the speed of the aircraft since they assist in maintaining the selected pitch. Rudder tabs can be set to hold yaw in check and maintain heading. Aileron tabs can help keep the wings level.

Occasionally, a simple light aircraft may have a stationary metal plate attached to the trailing edge of a primary flight control, usually the rudder. This is also a trim tab as shown in Figure 1-70. It can be bent slightly on the ground to trim the aircraft in flight to a hands-off condition when flying straight and level. The correct amount of bend can be determined only by flying the aircraft after an adjustment. Note that a small amount of bending is usually sufficient.

Figure 1-70. Example of a trim tab.

Figure 1-70. Example of a trim tab.

The aerodynamic phenomenon of moving a trim tab in one direction to cause the control surface to experience a force moving in the opposite direction is exactly what occurs with the use of balance tabs. [Figure 1-71] Often, it is difficult to move a primary control surface due to its surface area and the speed of the air rushing over it. Deflecting a balance tab hinged at the trailing edge of the control surface in the opposite direction of the desired control surface movement causes a force to position the surface in the proper direction with reduced force to do so. Balance tabs are usually linked directly to the control surface linkage so that they move automatically when there is an input for control surface movement. They also can double as trim tabs, if adjustable in the flight deck.

Figure 1-71. Balance tabs assist with forces needed to position control surfaces.

Figure 1-71. Balance tabs assist with forces needed to position control surfaces.

A servo tab is similar to a balance tab in location and effect, but it is designed to operate the primary flight control surface, not just reduce the force needed to do so. It is usually used as a means to back up the primary control of the flight control surfaces. [Figure 1-72]

Figure 1-72. Servo tabs can be used to position flight control surfaces in case of hydraulic failure.

Figure 1-72. Servo tabs can be used to position flight control surfaces in case of hydraulic failure.

On heavy aircraft, large control surfaces require too much force to be moved manually and are usually deflected out of the neutral position by hydraulic actuators. These power control units are signaled via a system of hydraulic valves connected to the yoke and rudder pedals. On fly-by-wire aircraft, the hydraulic actuators that move the flight control surfaces are signaled by electric input. In the case of hydraulic system failure(s), manual linkage to a servo tab can be used to deflect it. This, in turn, provides an aerodynamic force that moves the primary control surface.

A control surface may require excessive force to move only in the final stages of travel. When this is the case, a spring tab can be used. This is essentially a servo tab that does not activate until an effort is made to move the control surface beyond a certain point. When reached, a spring in line of the control linkage aids in moving the control surface through the remainder of its travel. [Figure 1-73]

Figure 1-73. Many tab linkages have a spring tab that kicks in as the forces needed to deflect a control increase with speed and the angle of desired deflection.

Figure 1-73. Many tab linkages have a spring tab that kicks in as the forces needed to deflect a control increase with speed and the angle of desired deflection.

Figure 1-74 shows another way of assisting the movement of an aileron on a large aircraft. It is called an aileron balance panel. Not visible when approaching the aircraft, it is positioned in the linkage that hinges the aileron to the wing.

Figure 1-74. An aileron balance panel and linkage uses varying air pressure to assist in control surface positioning.

Figure 1-74. An aileron balance panel and linkage uses varying air pressure to assist in control surface positioning. [click image to enlarge]

Balance panels have been constructed typically of aluminum skin-covered frame assemblies or aluminum honeycomb structures. The trailing edge of the wing just forward of the leading edge of the aileron is sealed to allow controlled airflow in and out of the hinge area where the balance panel is located.

[Figure 1-75] When the aileron is moved from the neutral position, differential pressure builds up on one side of the balance panel. This differential pressure acts on the balance panel in a direction that assists the aileron movement. For slight movements, deflecting the control tab at the trailing edge of the aileron is easy enough to not require significant assistance from the balance tab. (Moving the control tab moves the ailerons as desired.) But, as greater deflection is requested, the force resisting control tab and aileron movement becomes greater and augmentation from the balance tab is needed. The seals and mounting geometry allow the differential pressure of airflow on the balance panel to increase as deflection of the ailerons is increased. This makes the resistance felt when moving the aileron controls relatively constant.

Figure 1-75. The trailing edge of the wing just forward of the leading edge of the aileron is sealed to allow controlled airflow in and out of the hinge area where the balance panel is located.

Figure 1-75. The trailing edge of the wing just forward of the leading edge of the aileron is sealed to allow controlled airflow in and out of the hinge area where the balance panel is located.

Antiservo tabs, as the name suggests, are like servo tabs but move in the same direction as the primary control surface. On some aircraft, especially those with a movable horizontal stabilizer, the input to the control surface can be too sensitive. An antiservo tab tied through the control linkage creates an aerodynamic force that increases the effort needed to move the control surface. This makes flying the aircraft more stable for the pilot. Figure 1-76 shows an antiservo tab in the near neutral position. Deflected in the same direction as the desired stabilator movement, it increases the required control surface input.

Figure 1-76. An antiservo tab moves in the same direction as the control tab. Shown here on a stabilator, it desensitizes the pitch control.

Figure 1-76. An antiservo tab moves in the same direction as the control tab. Shown here on a stabilator, it desensitizes the pitch control.

Other Wing Features

There may be other structures visible on the wings of an aircraft that contribute to performance. Winglets, vortex generators, stall fences, and gap seals are all common wing features. Introductory descriptions of each are given in the following paragraphs.

A winglet is an obvious vertical upturn of the wing’s tip resembling a vertical stabilizer. It is an aerodynamic device designed to reduce the drag created by wing tip vortices in flight. Usually made from aluminum or composite materials, winglets can be designed to optimize performance at a desired speed. [Figure 1-77]

Figure 1-77. A winglet reduces aerodynamic drag caused by air spilling off of the wing tip.

Figure 1-77. A winglet reduces aerodynamic drag caused by air spilling off of the wing tip.

Vortex generators are small airfoil sections usually attached to the upper surface of a wing. [Figure 1-78] They are designed to promote positive laminar airflow over the wing and control surfaces. Usually made of aluminum and installed in a spanwise line or lines, the vortices created by these devices swirl downward assisting maintenance of the boundary layer of air flowing over the wing. They can also be found on the fuselage and empennage. Figure 1-79 shows the unique vortex generators on a Symphony SA-160 wing.

Figure 1-78. Vortex generators.

Figure 1-78. Vortex generators.

Figure 1-79. The Symphony SA-160 has two unique vortex generators on its wing to ensure aileron effectiveness through the stall.

Figure 1-79. The Symphony SA-160 has two unique vortex generators on its wing to ensure aileron effectiveness through the stall.

A chordwise barrier on the upper surface of the wing, called a stall fence, is used to halt the spanwise flow of air. During low speed flight, this can maintain proper chordwise airflow reducing the tendency for the wing to stall. Usually made of aluminum, the fence is a fixed structure most common on swept wings, which have a natural spanwise tending boundary air flow. [Figure 1-80]

Figure 1-80. A stall fence aids in maintaining chordwise airflow over the wing.

Figure 1-80. A stall fence aids in maintaining chordwise airflow over the wing.

Often, a gap can exist between the stationary trailing edge of a wing or stabilizer and the movable control surface(s). At high angles of attack, high pressure air from the lower wing surface can be disrupted at this gap. The result can be turbulent airflow, which increases drag. There is also a tendency for some lower wing boundary air to enter the gap and disrupt the upper wing surface airflow, which in turn reduces lift and control surface responsiveness. The use of gap seals is common to promote smooth airflow in these gap areas. Gap seals can be made of a wide variety of materials ranging from aluminum and impregnated fabric to foam and plastic. Figure 1-81 shows some gap seals installed on various aircraft.

Figure 1-81. Gap seals promote the smooth flow of air over gaps between fixed and movable surfaces.

Figure 1-81. Gap seals promote the smooth flow of air over gaps between fixed and movable surfaces. [click image to enlarge]