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How are airplanes controlled?

You find yourself thousands of feet in the sky in an airplane - awesome! But wait... "how do I control this thing?!" Don't worry - let me explain!

There are three axes along which aircraft can be controlled, these are:

  1. Pitch (Lateral Axis)

  2. Roll (Longitudinal Axis)

  3. Yaw (Vertical Axis)

You can think of these axes as imaginary fixed lines on an airplane. All movements of the airplane can be described by "rotating" the airplane around one (or more) of these imaginary lines.

For example, if an aircraft pitches up, it has rotated around the pitch axis. or if it is in a right hand turn, it has rotated around the roll axis. If the aircraft is in a pitch down, left hand turn - can you guess which two axes the aircraft has rotated around?

Control surfaces around modern airplanes help to control aircraft movement in one or more of these axes, giving pilots the ability to maneuver the aircraft as they desire.

The fundamental control surfaces


The elevator is a control surface located at the back of the airplane at the horizontal stabilizer. Here, airflow can be redirected to move the tail of the airplane upwards or downwards. The result - the aircraft is moved around the pitch axis.


Close to the elevator, on the vertical stabilizer we find the rudder. The rudder is a large, vertical control surface that deflects either left or right. What this results in is air being forced either left or right, creating a deflection of the tail section to one side. This rotates the aircraft around the yaw axis.

Rudders have a special property - they can also control roll! Without getting too technical, the yaw movement created by the rudder has other effects around the airplane, which create a roll in the direction of the yaw (left or right).


Ailerons are located outboard on the main wing. You can think of ailerons as similar to elevators but with one difference - they work opposite to each other! If the left aileron moves down, the right will move up. What this creates is a powerful force either upwards or downwards at the end of each wing. The combination of these rotates the wing around the roll axis.

Just like the rudder, ailerons also have a special property - they control yaw as a secondary effect.

BONUS - Flaperons!

As we mentioned in our video, the Boeing 777 model also has a set of flaperons. Flaperons are a combination of two surfaces - flaps + ailerons. These large surfaces are found on bigger and heavier aircraft models. They can function as either a flap, aileron, or a combination of both!

Behind The Scenes

Blender Workspace
Blender Workspace

Thank you for reading this far! If you have any questions, please get in touch with us via any of our social media pages! Be sure to share our page and this blog with your friends if you found it helpful.

For now, keep flying and soar freely, forever.

Andreas - TheAviationHub

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