Pilots & Aircraft

How Do Planes Turn?

Pilot using a yoke to turn plane

Ever wondered how do planes turn? It is a question that most passengers do not think about. Some are aware they “steer” in the air with a yoke or side stick. But do they use these same controls to turn on the ground?

When I tell people how pilots turn their plane, it is a real eye-opener to them. Many passengers have no idea how their pilots control their flight. Different planes are controlled differently, but most follow the same principle.

Axis Of An Aircraft

When a pilot begins flight school, they are introduced to the axes of an aircraft. These axes are used for turning the plane. They are the:

  • Longitudinal Axis
    • Relates to the rolling motion
    • Imagine the plane banking left and right
    • Ailerons control this axes
  • Lateral Axis
    • Relates to the pitching motion
    • Imagine the plane taking off and going up
    • Elevators control this axes
  • Vertical Axis
    • Relates to the yawing motion
    • Imagine the plane turning while taxing
    • Rudder controls this axes
    • Used while flying to keep turns coordinated

Longitudinal Axis

Aircraft turning on the longitudinal axes

When a plane is in the air and it makes a bank to the right, making you feel like gravity is pulling your body down sideways, it is turning on the longitudinal axes. Planes have a movable part located at the ends of wings called ailerons. You can see them move when a plane is turning.

Ailerons deflect up and down, changing the amount of lift that generates on the wings. This causes one side to dip down and the other to move upwards.

Pilots move the ailerons by using a yoke or side stick in the cockpit. Moving one of these devices left, for example, will turn the aircraft left.

Lateral Axis

Jet turning up

A plane is increasing its speed on the runway. It then rotates. This is achieved by the plane’s elevator moving up. The elevator is the horizontal wing on the back of the plane. If it defects up, the plane will pitch up. If in defects down, then the plane will pitch down.

Like the ailerons, the elevator is controlled by using a yoke or side stick. To manipulate the elevator, pilots pull up to go up and push down to go down.

Vertical Axis

plane turning on runway

Motion on the vertical axes is controlled by the aircraft rudder. The rudder is controlled by using rudder pedals located where the pilot’s foot would be. This is helpful for pilots so that they can keep their turns coordinated. It is also very important to use when crabbing in the wind for crosswind landings.

Think about your car. For a normal automatic vehicle, one pedal is the gas and the other is for the brakes. For an aircraft, pressing down on the right pedal will move the rudder to the right. This will then yaw the aircraft to the right. The opposite is true. Where are the brakes located? You would need to tap on the top of the rudder pedals for them to be activated!

Larger aircraft, such as a 737 or A320 for example, have a tiller. This is usually located beside the pilots. This allows pilots to taxi the plane by using their hands. The functionality is similar to a car’s steering wheel. Some pilots would agree that it is less work-intensive to use than the rudder pedals and it allows for greater accuracy when used.

Check out the video below showing how these flight controls work!

Conclusion

Now you know how a plane can turn. Different controls work together to achieve the necessary maneuvers for flight. All of these axes can be controlled at the same time. Technology has improved so that pilots can fly aircraft easier and have more precise actions.

Which of these systems you did not know about? Let me know in the comments below!

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4 thoughts on “How Do Planes Turn?

  1. Hello , i am fascinated by how plane fly .I like this article .I heard there could be many planes flying close to each other up high but on different elevations .Thank you for this ,it really an interesting topic for me .I enjoyed reading this

  2. I am completely new to this area of expertise. But I must say I learnt loads from your post and I’m highly motivated to learn more about how planes turn.

    Thank you so much so sharing this interesting information with us all.

    Best wishes

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