Flight Control Malfunction/Failure (Part One)

Total Flap Failure

The inability to extend the wing flaps necessitates a no-flap approach and landing. In light airplanes, a no-flap approach and landing is not particularly difficult or dangerous. However, there are certain factors that must be considered in the execution of this maneuver. A no-flap landing requires substantially more runway than normal. The increase in required landing distance could be as much as 50 percent.

When flying in the traffic pattern with the wing flaps retracted, the airplane must be flown in a relatively nose-high attitude to maintain altitude, as compared to flight with flaps extended. Losing altitude can be more of a problem without the benefit of the drag normally provided by flaps. A wider, longer traffic pattern may be required in order to avoid the necessity of diving to lose altitude and consequently building up excessive airspeed.


On final approach, a nose-high attitude can make it difficult to see the runway. This situation, if not anticipated, can result in serious errors in judgment of height and distance. Approaching the runway in a relatively nose-high attitude can also cause the perception that the airplane is close to a stall. This may cause the pilot to lower the nose abruptly and risk touching down on the nosewheel.

With the flaps retracted and the power reduced for landing, the airplane is slightly less stable in the pitch and roll axes. Without flaps, the airplane tends to float considerably during roundout. The pilot should avoid the temptation to force the airplane onto the runway at an excessively, high speed. Neither should the pilot flare excessively because without flaps, this might cause the tail to strike the runway.

Asymmetric (Split) Flap

An asymmetric “split” flap situation is one in which one flap deploys or retracts while the other remains in position. The problem is indicated by a pronounced roll toward the wing with the least flap deflection when wing flaps are extended/retracted.

The roll encountered in a split flap situation is countered with opposite aileron. The yaw caused by the additional drag created by the extended flap requires substantial opposite rudder resulting in a cross-control condition. Almost full aileron may be required to maintain a wings-level attitude, especially at the reduced airspeed necessary for approach and landing. The pilot should not attempt to land with a crosswind from the side of the deployed flap because the additional roll control required to counteract the crosswind may not be available.

The approach to landing with a split flap condition should be flown at a higher than normal airspeed. The pilot should not risk an asymmetric stall and subsequent loss of control by flaring excessively. Rather, the airplane should be flown onto the runway so that the touchdown occurs at an airspeed consistent with a safe margin above flaps-up stall speed.


Loss of Elevator Control

In many airplanes, the elevator is controlled by two cables: a “down” cable and an “up” cable. Normally, a break or disconnect in only one of these cables does not result in a total loss of elevator control. In most airplanes, a failed cable results in a partial loss of pitch control. In the failure of the “up” elevator cable (the “down” elevator being intact and functional), the control yoke moves aft easily but produces no response. Forward yoke movement, however, beyond the neutral position produces a nosedown attitude. Conversely, a failure of the “down” elevator cable, forward movement of the control yoke produces no effect. The pilot, however, has partial control of pitch attitude with aft movement.

When experiencing a loss of up-elevator control, the pilot can retain pitch control by:

  • Applying considerable nose-up trim
  • Pushing the control yoke forward to attain and maintain desired attitude
  • Increasing forward pressure to lower the nose and relaxing forward pressure to raise the nose
  • Releasing forward pressure to flare for landing

When experiencing a loss of down-elevator control, the pilot can retain pitch control by:

  • Applying considerable nosedown trim
  • Pulling the control yoke aft to attain and maintain attitude
  • Releasing back pressure to lower the nose and increasing back pressure to raise the nose
  • Increasing back pressure to flare for landing

Trim mechanisms can be useful in the event of an in-flight primary control failure. For example, if the linkage between the cabin and the elevator fails in flight, leaving the elevator free to weathervane in the wind, the trim tab can be used to raise or lower the elevator within limits. The trim tabs are not as effective as normal linkage control in conditions such as low airspeed, but they do have some positive effect—usually enough to bring about a safe landing.

If an elevator becomes jammed, resulting in a total loss of elevator control movement, various combinations of power and flap extension offer a limited amount of pitch control. A successful landing under these conditions, however, is problematical.

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