Young Eagles: Did You Know All Airplanes Have EARs?

We’re really sorry that the coronavirus restrictions mean we can’t fly Young Eagles right now. Alas, we just can’t maintain minimum 6-foot social distancing in a small airplane cockpit!

But that doesn’t mean we can’t offer some airplane education while we’re grounded. So, how about a little challenge for our junior aviators this month?

Did you guys know that all airplanes – have EARs?

Now, these aren’t the EARs you’re probably thinking of. They’re not like human ears, or dog ears, or cat ears, or horse ears. For one thing, airplanes don’t use their EARs to *hear.* Instead, they use them to go up or down, and to roll or turn left or right. That’s because an airplane’s EARs are its Elevators, Ailerons, and Rudders!

Because airplanes come in a lot of different designs, an airplane’s EARs can look very different, depending on the plane. Can you spot the EARs on different planes?

You can think of Elevators acting like the elevators in buildings; they make the plane go up or down. Sometimes they’re on the front end of the plane, on a small forward wing called a canard (in French, “canard” means “duck,” and the name stuck because people thought those early planes looked like a duck in flight, with their necks stuck straight out ahead of them!). The original Wright Flyer in 1903 had its elevators on a canard, for example. Some super-fun homebuilt planes designed by Burt Rutan, including the Vari-Eze and Cozy, for example, also had canards. Most of the time, though, a plane’s elevators are at the back, on the horizontal part (that’s the flat bit, often called the “horizontal stabilizer”) of the tail.

Ailerons (another French word, this time meaning “little wings”) are moveable parts on the outside back edges of an airplane’s wings. They always act opposite to each other: if you want the airplane to roll toward its right side, when you move the yoke or the stick to the right, the aileron on the right wing angles up, reducing the lift on that wing, while the aileron on the left wing angles down, increasing the lift on the left wing. Hey presto, the airplane rolls down and over to the right, with its left wing going up! Reverse the yoke or stick, and the ailerons reverse their motion, too, angling down on the right and up on the left, making the airplane roll over toward the left. Whee!

The Rudder controls what we call “yaw:” the way the nose of the plane swings either left or right. It’s a vertical control surface on the airplane’s tail. A pilot uses the rudder together with the ailerons when she or he wants to turn the plane; we call that a “coordinated turn.” Just think; it makes sense to have the nose go the way you want it to, while also having the wings track with that turn. That way, you can stay in level flight, not losing or gaining altitude while you turn.

So: now that you know about an airplane’s EARs, can you spot them on different planes? And here’s a REAL challenge: since the original 1903 Wright flyer DIDN’T have ailerons, can you explain how the very first airplane ever managed to fly *without* EARs?

We’ll include the answer next month!

Mary Dominiak