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What is a Tailplane?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A tailplane is a device located on or near the tail of an aircraft to provide balance, control, and stability. The tailplane consists of a small wing, usually adjustable to allow the pilot more control over the aircraft. Not all planes use this mechanism and in those that do, it is typically readily visible, making it easy for people to identify the systems used to stabilize the aircraft.

There are a number of tailplane designs available, and the term “horizontal stabilizer” may also be used, referring to the fact that it is horizontal relative to the aircraft and helps increase stability. There are a number of advantages to including a tailplane in the design of an aircraft, including greater equilibrium while in the air and less tendency to wobble in flight. The adjustable nature of the device also makes it possible for the pilot to control the pitch of the aircraft. Lifting or lowering the tailplane can pitch a plane up or down, allowing the pilot to adjust the plane as needed during flight.

Planes are designed with a number of failsafe systems in place to reduce the risks of catastrophic events while the airplane is in flight. Aircraft with a tailplane have other features intended to increase horizontal stability and if a problem arises in flight with one of these systems, others are designed to compensate until the plane can be safely landed. Engineers are routinely check planes over for any signs of malfunction, like faulty wiring to a tailplane that might make it difficult to adjust during flight.

The size and shape of tailplanes can vary, depending on the aircraft. Designers must consider the speeds used during flight when developing a design, as a stabilizer too large might interfere with the function of the plane at high speeds. It may also be hard to adjust the lifting portion of the tailplane at very high speeds, as the pressure on the moving parts can be very high. Engineers working on designs for new planes use a variety of tools to predict how features on the plane will behave while in operation, with the goal of anticipating and preventing obvious problems.

While people service and inspect airplanes, walking on the moving parts of the aircraft is usually not recommended. People could damage the mechanical systems used on these parts, and there is a possibility of injury. Aircraft technicians usually receive extensive training in how to conduct themselves around aircraft to limit the risks of damage or injury.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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