Primary Flight Controls and Trim Controls

in Aerodynamics, Aircraft Assembly, and Rigging

Primary Flight Controls

The primary controls are the ailerons, elevator, and the rudder, which provide the aerodynamic force to make the aircraft follow a desired flightpath. [Figure 2-10] The flight control surfaces are hinged or movable airfoils designed to change the attitude of the aircraft by changing the airflow over the aircraft’s surface during flight. These surfaces are used for moving the aircraft about its three axes.


Figure 2-10. Motion of an aircraft about its axes.

Figure 2-10. Motion of an aircraft about its axes. [click image to enlarge]

Typically, the ailerons and elevators are operated from the flight deck by means of a control stick, a wheel, and yoke assembly and on some of the newer design aircraft, a joystick. The rudder is normally operated by foot pedals on most aircraft. Lateral control is the banking movement or roll of an aircraft that is controlled by the ailerons. Longitudinal control is the climb and dive movement or pitch of an aircraft that is controlled by the elevator. Directional control is the left and right movement or yaw of an aircraft that is controlled by the rudder.

Trim Controls

Included in the trim controls are the trim tabs, servo tabs, balance tabs, and spring tabs. Trim tabs are small airfoils recessed into the trailing edges of the primary control surfaces. [Figure 2-12] Trim tabs can be used to correct any tendency of the aircraft to move toward an undesirable flight attitude. Their purpose is to enable the pilot to trim out any unbalanced condition which may exist during flight, without exerting any pressure on the primary controls.

Figure 2-12. Trim tabs.

Figure 2-12. Trim tabs.

Servo tabs, sometimes referred to as flight tabs, are used primarily on the large main control surfaces. They aid in moving the main control surface and holding it in the desired position. Only the servo tab moves in response to movement by the pilot of the primary flight controls.

Balance tabs are designed to move in the opposite direction of the primary flight control. Thus, aerodynamic forces acting on the tab assist in moving the primary control surface.

Spring tabs are similar in appearance to trim tabs, but serve an entirely different purpose. Spring tabs are used for the same purpose as hydraulic actuators—to aid the pilot in moving the primary control surface.

Figure 2-13 indicates how each trim tab is hinged to its parent primary control surface, but is operated by an independent control.

Figure 2-13. Types of trim tabs.

Figure 2-13. Types of trim tabs.