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Aircraft Flight Control System

The Aircraft Flight Control System allows the pilot to control the direction of the airplane. All airplanes are controlled over 3 axes, and allow the aircraft to roll, pitch, and yaw. Watch the video above for a brief introduction to aircraft controls.

Flight Control Types

Flight controls fall into one of two categories, either primary flight controls or secondary flight controls.

Primary Flight Controls

  • Ailerons (roll the aircraft left or right)
  • Elevator (pitch the aircraft up or down)
  • Rudder (yaw the aircraft left or right)

The ailerons and elevator are connected to the aircraft’s “stick” or “yoke”, while the rudder is controlled through rudder pedals located in the footwell.

Secondary Flight Controls:

  • Flaps
  • Trim

Flaps increase the amount of lift the wing is capable of producing, allowing the aircraft to be flown at slower speeds which can be beneficial for takeoff and landing. Trim, on the other hand, is similar to cruise control in your car. It is often referred to as the “cheap man’s autopilot”, and allows you to maintain a set altitude by alleviating control pressures. For example, once you level off and set your desired power setting, you may be holding the yoke slightly forward or slightly back to maintain your current altitude. Adjusting trim allows you to release that pressure while keeping the airplane at the same altitude.

Axis of Movement:

The airplane moves about three axes, and all of these axes meet at one central point which is the CENTER OF GRAVITY.

  • Longitudinal axis (long axis from nose to tail, ailerons roll the airplane around this axis)
  • Lateral axis (this axis goes wingtip to wingtip, the airplane pitches about this axis controlled by the elevator)
  • Vertical axis (a vertical line from the bottom up, the airplane yaws about this axis controlled by the rudder).


Aircraft are controlled through primary and secondary flight controls, and move over three axes known as longitudinal, lateral, and vertical axes. The airplane moves about these axes through roll, pitch, and yaw.