Aircraft Rigging – Rigging Checks (Part Two)

in Aerodynamics, Aircraft Assembly, and Rigging

Cable Tension

When it has been determined that the aircraft is symmetrical and structural alignment is within specifications, the cable tension and control surface travel can be checked.


To determine the amount of tension on a cable, a tensiometer is used. When properly maintained, a tensiometer is 98 percent accurate. Cable tension is determined by measuring the amount of force needed to make an offset in the cable between two hardened steel blocks called anvils. A riser or plunger is pressed against the cable to form the offset. Several manufacturers make a variety of tensiometers, each type designed for different kinds of cable, cable sizes, and cable tensions. One type of tensiometer is illustrated in Figure 2-88.

Figure 2-88. Cable tensiometer and sample conversion chart.

Figure 2-88. Cable tensiometer and sample conversion chart.

Following the manufacturer’s instructions, lower the trigger. Then, place the cable to be tested under the two anvils and close the trigger (move it up). Movement of the trigger pushes up the riser, which pushes the cable at right angles to the two clamping points under the anvils. The force that is required to do this is indicated by the dial pointer. As the sample chart beneath the illustration shows, different numbered risers are used with different size cables. Each riser has an identifying number and is easily inserted into the tensiometer.

Included with each tensiometer is a conversion chart, which is used to convert the dial reading to pounds. The dial reading is converted to pounds of tension as follows. Using a No. 2 riser to measure the tension of a 5/32″ diameter cable, a reading of 30 is obtained. The actual tension (see chart) of the cable is 70 lbs. Referring to the chart, also notice that a No. 1 riser is used with 1/16″, 3/32″, and 1/8″ cable. Since the tensiometer is not designed for use in measuring 7/32″ or 1/4″ cable, no values are shown in the No. 3 riser column of the chart.

When actually taking a reading of cable tension in an aircraft, it may be difficult to see the dial. Therefore, a pointer lock is built in on the tensiometer. Push it in to lock the pointer, then remove the tensiometer from the cable and observe the reading. After observing the reading, pull the lock out and the pointer returns to zero.

Another variable that must be taken into account when adjusting cable tension is the ambient temperature of cable and the aircraft. To compensate for temperature variations, cable rigging charts are used when establishing cable tensions in flight control, landing gear, and other cable-operated systems. [Figure 2-89]

Figure 2-89. Typical cable rigging chart.

Figure 2-89. Typical cable rigging chart. [click image to enlarge]

To use the chart, determine the size of the cable that is to be adjusted and the ambient air temperature. For example, assume that the cable size is 1/8″ diameter, which is a 7-19 cable and the ambient air temperature is 85 °F. Follow the 85 °F line upward to where it intersects the curve for 1/8″ cable. Extend a horizontal line from the point of intersection to the right edge of the chart. The value at this point indicates the tension (rigging load in pounds) to establish on the cable. The tension for this example is 70 pounds.

Control Surface Travel

In order for a control system to function properly, it must be correctly adjusted. Correctly rigged control surfaces move through a prescribed arc (surface-throw) and are synchronized with the movement of the flight deck controls. Rigging any control system requires that the aircraft manufacturer’s instructions be followed as outlined in their maintenance manual.

Therefore, the explanations in this chapter are limited to the three general steps listed below:

  1. Lock the flight deck control, bellcranks, and the control surfaces in the neutral position.
  2. Adjust the cable tension, maintaining the rudder, elevators, or ailerons in the neutral position.
  3. Adjust the control stops to limit the control surface travel to the dimensions given for the aircraft being rigged.

The range of movement of the controls and control surfaces should be checked in both directions from neutral. There are various tools used for measuring surface travel, including protractors, rigging fixtures, contour templates, and rulers. These tools are used when rigging flight control systems to ensure that the aircraft is properly rigged and the manufacturer’s specifications have been complied with.

Rigging fixtures and contour templates are special tools (gauges) designed by the manufacturer to measure control surface travel. Markings on the fixture or template indicate desired control surface travel. In many instances, the aircraft manufacturer gives the travel of a particular control surface in degrees and inches. If the travel in inches is provided, a ruler can be used to measure surface travel in inches.

Protractors are tools for measuring angles in degrees. Various types of protractors are used to determine the travel of flight control surfaces. One protractor that can be used to measure aileron, elevator, or wing flap travel is the universal propeller protractor shown in Figure 2-90.

Figure 2-90. Universal propeller protractor.

Figure 2-90. Universal propeller protractor.

This protractor is made up of a frame, disk, ring, and two spirit levels. The disk and ring turn independently of each other and of the frame. (The center spirit level is used to position the frame vertically when measuring propeller blade angle.) The center spirit level is used to position the disk when measuring control surface travel. A disk-to-ring lock is provided to secure the disk and ring together when the zero on the ring vernier scale and the zero on the disk degree scale align. The ring-to-frame lock prevents the ring from moving when the disk is moved. Note that they start at the same point and advance in opposite directions. A double 10-part vernier is marked on the ring.

The rigging of the trim tab systems is performed in a similar manner. The trim tab control is set to the neutral (no trim) position, and the surface tab is usually adjusted to streamline with the control surface. However, on some aircraft, the specifications may require that the trim tabs be offset a degree or two from streamline when in the neutral position. After the tab and tab control are in the neutral position, adjust the control cable tension.

Pins, usually called rig pins, are sometimes used to simplify the setting of pulleys, levers, bellcranks, etc., in their neutral positions. A rig pin is a small metallic pin or clip. When rig pins are not provided, the neutral positions can be established by means of alignment marks, by special templates, or by taking linear measurements.

If the final alignment and adjustment of a system are correct, it should be possible to withdraw the rigging pins easily. Any undue tightness of the pins in the rigging holes indicates incorrect tensioning or misalignment of the system.

After a system has been adjusted, the full and synchronized movement of the controls should be checked. When checking the range of movement of the control surface, the controls must be operated from the flight deck and not by moving the control surfaces. During the checking of control surface travel, ensure that chains, cables, etc., have not reached

the limit of their travel when the controls are against their respective stops.

Adjustable and nonadjustable stops (whichever the case requires) are used to limit the throw-range or travel movement of the ailerons, elevator, and rudder. Usually there are two sets of stops for each of the three main control surfaces. One set is located at the control surface, either in the snubber cylinders or as structural stops; the other, at the flight deck control. Either of these may serve as the actual limit stop. However, those situated at the control surface usually perform this function. The other stops do not normally contact each other, but are adjusted to a definite clearance when the control surface is at the full extent of its travel. These work as override stops to prevent stretching of cables and damage to the control system during violent maneuvers. When rigging control systems, refer to the applicable maintenance manual for the sequence of steps for adjusting these stops to limit the control surface travel.

Where dual controls are installed, they must be synchronized and function satisfactorily when operated from both positions.

Trim tabs and other tabs should be checked in a manner similar to the main control surfaces. The tab position indicator must be checked to see that it functions correctly. If jackscrews are used to actuate the trim tab, check to see that they are not extended beyond the specified limits when the tab is in its extreme positions.

After determining that the control system functions properly and is correctly rigged, it should be thoroughly inspected to determine that the system is correctly assembled and operates freely over the specified range of movement.