The mechanics of flight are fascinating. To get a several hundred ton metal structure in the air and remain airborne, all you need is to go fast enough to get sufficient airflow over and under the wings to generate lift. To initiate a turn, you bank or roll at an angle one direction or the other. And to climb or descend, you have to change the pitch.
The pitch is the up-down motion of the aircraft nose. In order to fly straight, the pitch is generally stabilized with the help of the horizontal stabilizer, a fixed-wing section that usually creates downward force to balance the nose down moment created by the wing lift force. However, because horizontal stabilizer is fixed, it does not play an active role in controlling the pitch. The elevator is.
The elevator is a small moving section at the rear of the stabilizer attached by hinges. There are two elevators, one on each side of the fuselage such that they can work together to keep the balance of the plane. They control the position of the nose of the aircraft and the angle of attack of the wing by changing the effective shape of the airfoil of the horizontal stabilizer. When the angle of deflection at the rear of an airfoil changes, the amount of lift generated by the foil changes. So, when the elevator is up, there is an increased downward force and the tail is forced down and the nose up. Similarly, when the elevator is down, there is a decreased downward force so the tail goes up and the nose goes down.
Elevators are also useful during banked turns. Elevator inputs can increase the lift and cause a tighter turn, which is why elevators are so important for military fighter aircraft. For many fighter planes, in order to meet their high-maneuvering requirements, the horizontal stabilizer and elevator are combined into what is called a stabilator, a fully movable stabilizer that functions just like the elevator.
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