Flaps vs. Ailerons

Aircraft are primarily controlled by moveable surfaces fixed at the edges of their wings, and changing the position of any one of these control surfaces can create an unbalanced force or shift in the aircraft’s center of gravity, causing the aircraft to move accordingly. Generally, there are two important moveable surfaces mounted on the main wings. The pair of surfaces located near the fuselage are called flaps, while the pair situated on the leading edge of the wings are known as ailerons.


Flaps are two moving surfaces mounted at the trailing edge of the wing near the wing root. Their main purpose is to increase the amount of lift created by the wing during takeoff and landing operations by maximizing the effective area of the wings. However, keep in mind that some commercial airliners have flaps installed at their leading edges. The additional lift enables the airplane to decrease its velocity while simultaneously increasing its angle of descent for landing. Moreover, because wings generate more lift when flaps are down, the aircraft’s stalling speed also goes down. For this reason, wings can be tilted further than usual on their axis while still allowing the vehicle to maintain a high angle of attack without stalling when flaps are extended.


Ailerons are mainly used to roll, meaning that they rotate the aircraft around the X-axis. Despite there being other methods for controlling roll, ailerons serve as the most effective means. The movement of the ailerons generates an angle in the lift vector by changing the pressure differences at the wings. As such, ailerons are fixed on each wing in a way that enables one to move in the opposite direction when compared to the other. This action creates a pressure difference on the upper and lower surfaces of the wings; thus, the ailerons can create ample lift. It is worth noting that ailerons are considered control surfaces, whereas flaps are not.


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  1. Posted on November 30, 2022
  2. aircraft parts

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