Elevons or tailerons are aircraft control surfaces that combine the functions of the elevator (used for pitch control) and the aileron (used for roll control), hence the name. They are frequently used on tailless aircraft such as flying wings. An elevon that is not part of the main wing, but instead is a separate tail surface, is a stabilator (but stabilators are also used for pitch control only, with no roll function, as on the Piper Cherokee series of aircraft). The word "elevon" is a portmanteau of elevator and aileron.
Elevons are installed on each side of the aircraft at the trailing edge of the wing. When moved in the same direction (up or down) they will cause a pitching force (nose up or nose down) to be applied to the airframe. When moved differentially, (one up, one down) they will cause a rolling force to be applied. These forces may be applied simultaneously by appropriate positioning of the elevons e.g. one wing's elevons completely down and the other wing's elevons partly down.
An aircraft with elevons is controlled as though the pilot still has separate aileron and elevator surfaces at his disposal, controlled by the yoke or stick. The inputs of the two controls are mixed either mechanically or electronically to provide the appropriate position for each elevon.
Several technology research and development efforts exist to integrate the functions of aircraft flight control systems such as ailerons, elevators, elevons and flaps into wings to perform the aerodynamic purpose with the advantages of less: mass, cost, drag, inertia (for faster, stronger control response), complexity (mechanically simpler, fewer moving parts or surfaces, less maintenance), and radar cross section for stealth. However, the main drawback is that when the elevons move up in unison to raise the pitch of the aircraft, generating additional lift, they reduce the camber, or downward curvature of the wing. Camber is desirable when generating high levels of lift, and so elevons reduce the maximum lift and efficiency of a wing. These may be used in many unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and 6th generation fighter aircraft. Two promising approaches are flexible wings, and fluidics.
In flexible wings, much or all of a wing surface can change shape in flight to deflect air flow. The X-53 Active Aeroelastic Wing is a NASA effort. The Adaptive Compliant Wing is a military and commercial effort.
In fluidics, forces in vehicles occur via circulation control, in which larger more complex mechanical parts are replaced by smaller simpler fluidic systems (slots which emit air flows) where larger forces in fluids are diverted by smaller jets or flows of fluid intermittently, to change the direction of vehicles. In this use, fluidics promises lower mass, costs (up to 50% less), and very low inertia and response times, and simplicity.
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