Thursday, September 13, 2007


In a T-tail configuration, the elevator is above most of the effects of downwash from the propeller as well as airflow around the fuselage and/or wings during normal flight conditions. Operation of the elevators in this undisturbed air makes for control movements that are consistent throughout most flight regimes. T-tail designs have become popular on many light airplanes and on large aircraft, especially those with aft-fuselage mounted engines since the T-tail configuration removes the tail from the exhaust blast of the engines. Seaplanes and amphibians often have T-tails in order to keep the horizontal surfaces as far from the water as possible. An additional benefit is reduced vibration and noise inside the aircraft.

At slow speeds, the elevator on a T-tail aircraft must be moved through a larger number of degrees of travel to raise the nose a given amount as compared to a conventional-tail aircraft. This is because the conventional-tail aircraft has the downwash from the propeller pushing down on the tail to assist in raising the nose. Since controls on aircraft are rigged in such a manner as to require increasing control forces for increased control travel, the forces required to raise the nose of a T-tail aircraft are greater than for a conventional-tail aircraft. Longitudinal stability of a trimmed aircraft is the same for both types of configuration, but the pilot must be aware that at slow speeds during takeoffs and landings or stalls, the control forces will be greater than for similar size airplanes equipped with conventional tails.

T-tail airplanes also require additional design considerations to counter the problem of flutter. Since the weight of the horizontal surfaces is at the top of the vertical stabilizer, the moment arm created causes high loads on the vertical stabilizer which can result in flutter. Engineers must compensate for this by increasing the design stiffness of the vertical stabilizer, usually resulting in a weight penalty over conventional tail designs.

When flying at a very high angle of attack with a low airspeed and an aft CG, the T-tail airplane may be susceptible to a deep stall. In a deep stall, the airflow over the horizontal tail is blanketed by the disturbed airflow from the wings and fuselage. In these circumstances, elevator or stabilator control could be diminished, making it difficult to recover from the stall. It should be noted that an aft CG could be a contributing factor in these incidents since similar recovery problems are also found with conventional-tail aircraft with an aft CG.

Since flight at a high angle of attack with a low airspeed and an aft CG position can be dangerous, many airplanes have systems to compensate for this situation. The systems range from control stops to elevator down springs. An elevator down spring assists in lowering the nose to prevent a stall caused by the aft CG position. The stall occurs because the properly trimmed airplane is flying with the elevator in a trailing edge down position, forcing the tail up and the nose down. In this unstable condition, if the airplane encounters turbulence and slows down further, the trim tab no longer positions the elevator in the nose-down position. The elevator then streamlines, and the nose of the aircraft pitches upward. This aggravates the situation and can possibly result in a stall.

The elevator down spring produces a mechanical load on the elevator, causing it to move toward the nosedown position if not otherwise balanced. The elevator trim tab balances the elevator down spring to position the elevator in a trimmed position. When the trim tab becomes ineffective, the down spring drives the elevator to a nose down position. The nose of the aircraft lowers, speed builds up, and a stall is prevented.

The elevator must also have sufficient authority to hold the nose of the airplane up during the roundout for a landing. In this case, a forward CG may cause a problem. During the landing flare, power normally is reduced, which decreases the airflow over the empennage. This, coupled with the reduced landing speed, makes the elevator less effective.

From this discussion, it should be apparent that pilots must understand and follow proper loading procedures, particularly with regard to the CG position.

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