AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, AND FAA AC 0056B ACCREDITED

All About Variable Position Horizontal Stabilizers

When an airplane flies, it must counteract gravity by generating lift. Though the wings can generate enough lift on their own, a plane’s center of gravity is not always directly in line with its center of lift. Therefore, with only wings, the plane would be unstable in its pitch with its nose unintentionally tilting up and down mid-flight. To combat this, several control surfaces called “horizontal stabilizers” are placed on the tail to both balance the weight and lift of the plane. However, not all horizontal stabilizers are the same. While they all consist of horizontal, adjustable flaps on the tail, there are several different styles to choose from. For example, some planes have variable-position horizontal stabilizers, a design that combines the functionality of several different control surfaces all in one.

What Are Variable-Position Horizontal Stabilizers?

Normally, the horizontal stabilizers are fixed tailplanes that have separate hinged elevators which are used to control pitch. Still, other planes will have both elevators and a separate set of flaps called flaperons which can be oriented together to increase and reduce drag. Otherwise, they can be used separately to help facilitate roll. Combining all three functions, variable position horizontal stabilizers are able to change the airplane’s pitch as well as its flaperon setting. To do this, the horizontal stabilizer itself is able to tilt to affect lift, roll, and drag. Like all horizontal stabilizers, they are primarily used to stabilize the airplane, but can also be used as elevators, ailerons, or to affect drag. By merging all three actions into one set of control surfaces, airplanes with this design can function just as well while reducing their weight overall.

Flaperon Setting and Variable-Position Horizontal Stabilizers

The flaperon setting controls the angle at which the variable-position horizontal stabilizer points. As such, all variable-position horizontal stabilizers have a positive and negative flaperon setting. Whereas a positive flaperon setting will increase drag, a negative flaperon setting will reduce it so that the plane can fly more smoothly. When preparing to land, pilots will often use a positive flaperon setting which increases drag, slowing down the plane. Otherwise, the pilot may use the device to make small adjustments in the air to maintain the proper speed throughout the flight.

What about Vertical Stabilizers?

Similar to their horizontal counterparts, vertical stabilizers work to keep the airplane moving forward and resist drifting to one side or another during regular flight. The difference is in their orientation, that of which is vertical along the tail rather than horizontal. In addition to keeping the plane oriented forward, the vertical stabilizer also contains the rudder which is used to determine the vessel’s heading. When the rudder is tilted to the right, the plane will move to the left. The opposite is true when the rudder is angled to the left. Since the rudder is all that is needed to properly control the plane’s heading, the vertical stabilizer is always a fixed component and never adjusted like the variable-position horizontal stabilizer.


Horizontal stabilizers come in several different styles with variable-position horizontal stabilizers characterized by their ability to function as an elevator and flaperon, in addition to keeping the plane stable. By adjusting the angle of the stabilizer itself, several functions can be combined into a single mechanism. If you are on the market for dependable aircraft mechanisms such as vertical and horizontal stabilizer parts, Stacked Hardware has you covered. Operating as the leading supplier of aircraft hardware and networking parts, we go to great lengths to ensure the quality and authenticity of our products. As such, we only source from trusted manufacturers on our Approved Vendor List (AVL) and include their trace documents with each order. Begin the purchasing process with use today to fulfill all your parts procurement needs with items of unbeatable quality.



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