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What is Empennage?

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  • Written By: CPW
  • Edited By: Jay Garcia
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  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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Derived from the French for "feathers of an arrow," the word empennage in the English language describes the stabilizing apparatus found at the rear of an aircraft and is commonly referred to as the tail or tail assembly. Though modern aircraft sometimes differ in the composite of parts that make up their empennages, the apparatus typically consists of the horizontal tail structure (the horizontal stabilizer and the elevator) and the vertical tail structure (the vertical stabilizer and the rudder).

The empennage, as the French derivation of its name suggests, acts in an analogous fashion to the feathers of an arrow when shot from a bow. It provides control of the pitch (the movement of an aircraft up and down its lateral axis) and yaw (the side-to-side movement of an aircraft) of an airborne vessel and is therefore the means by which the aircraft is stabilized and flown in the intended direction.

The horizontal tail structure of the empennage consists of the horizontal stabilizer and the elevator. The horizontal stabilizer is a fixed part that controls and balances the pitching of the aircraft; whereas the elevator is attached to this horizontal stabilizer and dictates the pitch and motion of the aircraft’s nose. When the horizontal stabilizer and the elevator are combined to make just one piece of the empennage’s apparatus it is commonly referred to as a stabilator or flying tail.

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The configuration of the vertical tail structure of the empennage mirrors that of its horizontal counterpart. The vertical stabilizer at the front of the apparatus is a stationary piece of equipment that controls the craft’s back and forth yaw; whereas the rear section of the structure is a piece of movable apparatus and acts as the rudder of the aircraft’s empennage. This rudder works to stabilize any unwanted yawing when the aircraft is in the process of turning.

In modern commercial airplanes such as the Airbus A320, A330, A340 and A380 series, the empennage is made out of carbon fiber and usually houses the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder. The aircraft’s name and other insignia are often emblazoned on the empennage or tail part.

Vought Aircraft Industries, headquartered in Dallas, supplies the airline industry with most of its empennages and tail parts, numbering amongst its customers Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and the US Government. It produces the Boeing 747’s tail section, the 767’s horizontal stabilizer, the C-130J Hercules’ empennage, has sold over 2,400 empennage sections to Lockheed Martin, and supplies the U.S military’s F22A with her horizontal stabilator.

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