What Are the Main Types of Aircraft Flight Control Systems

For an aircraft to optimally navigate through the sky and maintain efficient heavier-than-air flight, they require a number of control surfaces, linkages, and other related components that work together. Through surfaces such as flaps, slats, slots, rudders, and their respective cockpit controls, pilots can govern the flight dynamics of an aircraft in order to assist in flight operations. While many aircraft may feature similar primary and secondary controls for piloting, the means of operating such surfaces may come in various forms of flight control systems. In this blog, we will discuss the three main types of aircraft flight control systems, allowing you to better understand how different aircraft models are handled.

As the most basic option between the three common flight control systems, the mechanical system has served many early and light aircraft in which there is not a need for combatting high aerodynamic forces. Through the use of tension cables, weights, pulleys, and other such components, flight control surfaces are manually operated by the pilots through cockpit controls. As smaller aircraft are typically not subjected to the same aerodynamic forces faced by those travelling at higher airspeeds or those with larger control surface areas, mechanical flight control systems serve well for actuation. In some cases where there is a need for a stronger mechanical force to overcome aerodynamics, servo tabs may be used which are small hinged components placed on each control surface.

As aircraft continued to grow larger over time and increased their speed capabilities, the mechanical flight control system proved inefficient for combatting stronger forces. In response to the implementation of more complex and heavier flight control surfaces on larger aircraft, engineers began to utilize hydraulics in order to overcome actuation limitations. Through the use of compressed fluids within an enclosed component, hydraulics allow for pilots to operate heavy controls with ease where only muscular strength could be used before. To operate hydraulic flight control surfaces, the system consists of hydraulic pump parts, reservoirs, valves, pipes, filters, and more. Through the use of hydraulic pumps, pressure can be built up and utilized by actuators to operate a control surface. With a servo valve connected to a mechanical feedback linkage, surfaces can be held at specific positions as dictated by pilot control.

As a more recent addition to flight control systems, the fly-by-wire system is one in which manual flight controls have been replaced with electronics. As such, flight controls are operated and actuated through wires and electronic signals that are provided by flight control computers. With such a system, pilots can input various controls within the cockpit, and flight control computers will calculate the optimal setting and positioning of surfaces and adjust rudders, flaps, ailerons, and more in response. With the fly-by-wire flight control system, pilots can govern the aircraft with ease while ensuring that all actuation and operations remain within a safe performance envelope. To increase the safety of the system and guarantee functionality in the case of a power loss or electrical system failure, many fly-by-wire aircraft will also utilize a mechanical flight control backup system.

Although each aircraft flight control system has its unique method of actuation and benefits, all provide the same end result of governing flight control surfaces. Whether you are in need of a pressure control unit, panel trim system, or other parts for your aircraft, look no further than Aerospace Buying. As a premier online distributor of aviation parts, we provide rapid lead-times and competitive pricing on a variety of new, used, and obsolete items that we carry. Explore our robust part catalogues at your leisure, and our team of industry experts are always available 24/7x365 to assist you through the purchasing process as needed. Get started today and experience how Aerospace Buying can serve as your strategic sourcing partner for all of your operational needs.


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March 22, 2021

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