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What is a Horizontal Stabilizer?

By T. L. Childree
Updated: May 23, 2024

A horizontal stabilizer is a fixed wing attached to the fuselage of an aircraft. This device is typically used to provide stability during flight by controlling the up and down motion of the aircraft. A second device known as an elevator is attached to most horizontal stabilizers to further control the pitch attitude of the aircraft. A horizontal stabilizer may be placed at either the front or the rear of an aircraft fuselage. When the stabilizer is placed at the front of an aircraft, it is called a canard. When it is placed at the rear of an aircraft, is referred to as a tailplane. On some types of aircraft, both the horizontal stabilizer and the elevator are combined into a single rotating surface called a stabilator.

Any type of aircraft must maintain a well-balanced state in order to fly properly. An aircraft with only its wings would be unable to maintain its equilibrium and would continuously pitch upward in flight. A horizontal stabilizer is typically used to provide the type of balancing force needed to maintain the aircraft’s equilibrium. The aircraft’s horizontal stabilizer is usually located far enough from its wings to maintain the correct pitch during any kind of take-off, landing, or turning maneuvers. An aircraft that is well-balanced will generally be able to maintain a constant airspeed and pitch attitude without requiring continuous control from the pilot.

A horizontal stabilizer must also have an elevator in order to help control the amount of balancing force that it provides in a particular situation. An elevator is a relatively small movable section of the stabilizer that can be used to control or generate the pitching motion of the aircraft during flight. Elevators are typically attached to the rear of the stabilizer on each side of the fuselage and operate as a single unit. These devices may also be utilized during take-off and landing maneuvers as well.

Horizontal stabilizers are typically found on both fixed-wing and non-fixed-wing aircraft, and are utilized in various different configurations. The most commonly used configuration is to attach the horizontal stabilizer to the rear of the aircraft’s fuselage directly beneath the vertical stabilizer. Some types of aircraft use a stabilizer configuration known as a T- tail. In this particular configuration, the horizontal stabilizer is mounted above the vertical stabilizer to form a T-shape. This type of arrangement is generally heavier and more difficult to maintain than a traditional fuselage mounted stabilizer.

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Discussion Comments
By SunSeal — On Oct 29, 2014

I've just begun flight school. I found a unique opportunity for women in my area to learn how to fly. I was interested flying planes, but I've actually decided to fly helicopters for medical emergencies. Do helicopters have a horizontal stabilizer as well? Is that what the author is referring to as the T-tail? I've never even been in a helicopter, so lots of questions!

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