What Do All the Flight Controls Do in an Airplane?

What do all the flight controls do in an airplane?

2 mins read

If you’ve ever watched an airplane movie, you’ve probably noticed the cockpit’s array of buttons, levers, and switches. But what do all these controls do? When you’re in the air, it’s ultimately up to the pilot to make sure everything runs smoothly and that they stay on course.

Let’s explore what some flight controls do in an airplane and how they work together to help the pilot control the aircraft.

Elevator control

Elevator control is one of the most important flight controls. This control is a movable horizontal surface located at the tail end of the aircraft. It connects to cables that run along either side of the fuselage, which move the plane up and down. When moved up or down, it changes the pitch angle of the aircraft’s nose relative to its wings. This change will cause it to climb or descend accordingly, allowing for safe take-off and landing operations.

Rudder control

The rudder control is similar to an elevator, but it moves left or right instead of moving up or down. The rudder helps control yaw—or turning—by causing one wingtip to move faster than the other when turned in either direction. This rudder causes a difference in lift between each wingtip and creates a turning force that makes the aircraft turn in response. Pilots also use the rudder during take-off and landing operations, when strong headwinds may require more aggressive turning maneuvers than normal.


Ailerons are hinged surfaces at each end of the wings on either side of an aircraft’s fuselage. They are used to roll the plane from side to side using differential lift created by their movement.

Two sets of controls typically operate them, one for left-hand turns and another for right-hand turns, allowing the pilot to control both wings independently. This tool allows pilots more precise control over their maneuvering during flight operations.


Flaps are hinged surfaces at each end of an airplane’s wings that extend downward when deployed (they usually retract back into place when not deployed). They increase lift by increasing airflow around them and changing air pressure above them through their movement (by creating vortices). 

This increase helps slow down an airplane during descent and allows for shorter take-off distances due to increased lift at lower speeds (taking off at slower speeds reduces engine stress). Flaps can also help during landings where increased drag helps reduce speed before touchdown on runway surfaces.

Trim tabs

Trim tabs are small, hinged surfaces located at various points on an airplane’s fuselage that can be adjusted by hand or electronically depending on the model type and manufacturer’s specifications. They help adjust airspeed without manually moving any flight controls by creating a small drag that counters forces acting upon them from wind gusts and more.

Knowing how all these different flight controls work together is essential for any pilot hoping to safely fly an airplane. Understanding the basic components of aircraft cockpits and how each works independently and collectively will give pilots greater command over their maneuvering capabilities during any given operation. With this knowledge comes greater confidence in your flying skills and abilities, as well as increased safety in the skies.

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