Flight Controls – Flaps

in Physics

The most often used lift-modifying device, for small airplanes and large, is the wing flap. Flaps can be installed on the leading edge or trailing edge, with the leading edge versions used only on larger airplanes. Flaps change the camber of the wing, and they increase both the lift and the drag for any given angle of attack. The four different types of flaps in use are the plain, split, slotted, and Fowler. [Figure 3-72]

Figure 3-72. Four types of wing flaps.

Figure 3-72. Four types of wing flaps.

Plain flaps attach to the trailing edge of the wing, inboard of the ailerons, and form part of the wing’s overall surface. When deployed downward, they increase the effective camber of the wing and the wing’s chord line. Both of these factors cause the wing to create more lift and more drag.


The split flap attaches to the bottom of the wing, and deploys downward without changing the top surface of the wing. This type of flap creates more drag than the plain flap because of the increase in turbulence.

The slotted flap is similar to the plain flap, except when it deploys, the leading edge drops down a small amount. By having the leading edge drop down slightly, a slot opens up, which lets some of the high pressure air on the bottom of the wing flow over the top of the flap. This additional airflow over the top of the flap produces additional lift.

The Fowler flap attaches to the back of the wing using a track and roller system. When it deploys, it moves aft in addition to deflecting downward. This increases the total wing area, in addition to increasing the wing camber and chord line. This type of flap is the most effective of the four types, and it is the type used on commercial airliners and business jets.