An aircraft must have sufficient stability to maintain a uniform flightpath and recover from the various upsetting forces. Also, to achieve the best performance, the aircraft must have the proper response to the movement of the controls. Control is the pilot action of moving the flight controls, providing the aerodynamic force that induces the aircraft to follow a desired flightpath. When an aircraft is said to be controllable, it means that the aircraft responds easily and promptly to movement of the controls. Different control surfaces are used to control the aircraft about each of the three axes. Moving the control surfaces on an aircraft changes the airflow over the aircraft’s surface. This, in turn, creates changes in the balance of forces acting to keep the aircraft flying straight and level.

Three terms that appear in any discussion of stability and control are: stability, maneuverability, and controllability. Stability is the characteristic of an aircraft that tends to cause it to fly (hands off) in a straight-and-level flightpath. Maneuverability is the characteristic of an aircraft to be directed along a desired flightpath and to withstand the stresses imposed. Controllability is the quality of the response of an aircraft to the pilot’s commands while maneuvering the aircraft.


Static Stability

An aircraft is in a state of equilibrium when the sum of all the forces acting on the aircraft and all the moments is equal to zero. An aircraft in equilibrium experiences no accelerations, and the aircraft continues in a steady condition of flight. A gust of wind or a deflection of the controls disturbs the equilibrium, and the aircraft experiences acceleration due to the unbalance of moment or force.

The three types of static stability are defined by the character of movement following some disturbance from equilibrium. Positive static stability exists when the disturbed object tends to return to equilibrium. Negative static stability, or static instability, exists when the disturbed object tends to continue in the direction of disturbance. Neutral static stability exists when the disturbed object has neither tendency, but remains in equilibrium in the direction of disturbance. These three types of stability are illustrated in Figure 2-11.

Figure 2-11. Three types of stability.

Figure 2-11. Three types of stability. [click image to enlarge]

Dynamic Stability

While static stability deals with the tendency of a displaced body to return to equilibrium, dynamic stability deals with the resulting motion with time. If an object is disturbed from equilibrium, the time history of the resulting motion defines the dynamic stability of the object. In general, an object demonstrates positive dynamic stability if the amplitude of motion decreases with time. If the amplitude of motion increases with time, the object is said to possess dynamic instability.

Any aircraft must demonstrate the required degrees of static and dynamic stability. If an aircraft were designed with static instability and a rapid rate of dynamic instability, the aircraft would be very difficult, if not impossible, to fly. Usually, positive dynamic stability is required in an aircraft design to prevent objectionable continued oscillations of the aircraft.

Longitudinal Stability

When an aircraft has a tendency to keep a constant AOA with reference to the relative wind (i.e., it does not tend to put its nose down and dive or lift its nose and stall); it is said to have longitudinal stability. Longitudinal stability refers to motion in pitch. The horizontal stabilizer is the primary surface which controls longitudinal stability. The action of the stabilizer depends upon the speed and AOA of the aircraft.

Directional Stability

Stability about the vertical axis is referred to as directional stability. The aircraft should be designed so that when it is in straight-and-level flight it remains on its course heading even though the pilot takes his or her hands and feet off the controls. If an aircraft recovers automatically from a skid, it has been well designed for directional balance. The vertical stabilizer is the primary surface that controls directional stability. Directional stability can be designed into an aircraft, where appropriate, by using a large dorsal fin, a long fuselage, and sweptback wings.

Lateral Stability

Motion about the aircraft’s longitudinal (fore and aft) axis is a lateral, or rolling, motion. The tendency to return to the original attitude from such motion is called lateral stability.

Dutch Roll

A Dutch Roll is an aircraft motion consisting of an out-ofphase combination of yaw and roll. Dutch roll stability can be artificially increased by the installation of a yaw damper.