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Aileron Definition, Meaning & Explanation

Ailerons Definition, Meaning & Explanation

An aileron (French for ‘little wing’) is a hinged flight control surface usually forming part of the trailing edge of each wing of a fixed-wing aircraft. Also refers to the extremities of a bird’s wings used to control its flight.

Ailerons are used in pairs to control the aircraft in roll, which normally results in a change in flight path due to the tilting of the lift vector. Movement around this axis is called ‘rolling’ or ‘banking’.

They were first patented by the British scientist and inventor Matthew Piers Watt Boulton in 1868.



Pairs of aileron are typically interconnected so that when one is moved downward, the other is moved upward.

The down-going aileron increases the lift on its wing while the up-going aileron reduces the lift on its wing, producing a rolling (also called ‘banking’) moment about the aircraft’s longitudinal axis (which extends from the nose to the tail of an airplane).

Ailerons are usually situated near the wingtip, but may sometimes also be situated nearer the wing root. Modern airliners may also have a second pair of ailerons on their wings, and the terms ‘outboard aileron’ and ‘inboard aileron’ are used to describe these positions respectively.


Moving the flight deck control wheel or control stick to the right results in the aileron mounted on the right-wing deflecting upward while, at the same time, the aileron on the left-wing deflects downward.

The upward deflection of the right aileron reduces the camber of the wing resulting in the decreased lift on the right wing.

Conversely, the downward deflection of the left aileron results in an increase in camber and a corresponding increase in lift on the left-wing.

The differential lift between the wings results in the aircraft rolling to the right. On some aircraft, ailerons are augmented by roll spoilers mounted on the upper surface of the wing.

Adverse Yaw

In the functional of Yaw, the increase in camber of the left-wing results in an increase in the lift but this, in turn, also causes an increase in drag.

This added drag causes the wing to slow down slightly resulting in rotation, referred to as yaw, around the vertical axis.

To overcome this yaw and thereby maintain coordinated flight, rudder input is required while entering and exiting a turn.

Minimize the amount of adverse yaw produced during a turn, engineers have developed various aerodynamic and mechanical solutions including differential ailerons and coupled ailerons and rudders.


Aileron components

Horns and aerodynamic counterbalances

Particularly on larger or faster aircraft, control forces may be extremely heavy. Borrowing a discovery from boats that extending a control surface’s area forward of the hinge lightens the forces needed first appeared on ailerons during World War I.

When ailerons were extended beyond the wingtip and provided with a horn ahead of the hinge. Known as overhung ailerons, possibly the best-known examples are the Fokker Dr.I and Fokker D.VII.

Later examples brought the counterbalance in line with the wing to improve control and reduce drag. This is seen less often now, due to the Frise type aileron which provides the same benefit.


Spades are flat metal plates, usually attached to the lower surface, ahead of the hinge, by a lever arm.

They reduce the force needed by the pilot to deflect the aileron and are often seen on aerobatic aircraft. As the aileron is deflected upward, the spade produces a downward aerodynamic force.

Which tends to rotate the whole assembly so as to further deflect it upward. The size of the spade determines how much force the pilot needs to apply to deflect the aileron.

A spade works in the same manner as a horn but is more efficient due to the longer-moment arm.

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