How Do Aircraft Turn During Flight?

Turning is a normal procedure in flight, allowing for a pilot to readjust the aircraft heading to change their direction. Rather than simply rotate a steering wheel such as one would do in an automobile, pilots must take advantage of various flight surfaces and controls in order to efficiently turn. Additionally, they also have to take into consideration gravity, lift, thrust, and other various forces that may affect heading and orientation. In this blog, we will discuss how airplanes turn in the air, allowing you to better understand the control of such vehicles. 

Depending on a pilot’s needs, an aircraft can undertake many different turns. Shallow turns are fairly common, being defined as a turn which has a bank angle that does not exceed 20 degrees. Meanwhile, a steep turn is much sharper as the bank angle reaches around 45 degrees. Medium angles are also commonly carried out, ranging in bank angle from 20 to 45 degrees. Generally, the shallower a particular turn is, the easier it will be for the pilot to successfully carry it out. 

While one may think that turning is achieved by simply angling the aircraft wings, pilots must regularly use flight surfaces such as the ailerons and rudders in order to conduct even low angle banking. Aircraft ailerons are small control surfaces that are situated on the wing of an aircraft, being present on both assemblies. When the pilot wishes to carry out a turn, they will raise the aileron surface on one side while subsequently lowering the other. With the opposing position of both surfaces, aerodynamics will shift in such a way that the aircraft will roll left or right. With a wheel inside of the aircraft, the pilots may govern the position of the ailerons, allowing them to assume control over heading. 

While the aircraft ailerons are useful for initiating the turn, pilots also rely on the rudder pedals for increased control. With the rudder pedals, pilots can govern the rudder flight surface which is situated on the tail of an aircraft. The rudder is somewhat similar to an aileron, albeit being a vertical component that acts as a flap. By depressing one of the rudder pedals, the rudder will deflect to one side. As such, depressing the right pedal will shift the rudder right while depressing the left pedal will shift the rudder left. 

While the aircraft ailerons and rudder pedals are useful when initiating turns while in the air, pilots may still use the pedals for ground operations as well. When traversing a runway for taxi operations, pilots may use the rudder pedal to adjust their direction. Just as it would work in the air, the right pedal will cause the aircraft to turn right, while the left pedal will help the aircraft turn left. Ailerons, however, are not used while conducting ground operations as they are unable to affect the direction of the aircraft during such procedures.

To maintain the operability of your aircraft ailerons, rudder pedals, and other flight surfaces and controls, it is important that such assemblies are regularly inspected and maintained. Veritable Aviation is an online distributor of aircraft parts, and we are your sourcing solution for top quality items that have been sourced from leading global manufacturers that we trust. Take the time to explore our catalogs as you see fit, and our team is readily on standby to assist you through the purchasing process with competitive quotes and rapid lead-times on all we carry. Give our team members a call or email at your earliest convenience and see how we can fulfill all your operational needs. At Veritable Aviation, we are more than just a dependable part distributor; we are your strategic sourcing partner. 


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