What Is a Tailplane Stall?

Stalling is a condition that no pilot wants to face, referring to an instance where an aircraft surface is not able to maintain smooth airflow, resulting in a decrease in lift. Stalls may occur through various means, and they are a hazard as they cause aircraft to sink in the atmosphere when there is not enough lift to overcome weight. While stalls are most often faced by the main wings of an aircraft, they can also occur around the tailplane. While tailplane stalls are not often discussed, they present a major threat to pilots and passengers. As such, having an understanding of how they come about, and how to recover from them, is highly important to maintaining safety across flight operations.

The tailplane of an aircraft is a small lifting device found near the tail-end of the fuselage, and it is often referred to as the horizontal stabilizer. Tailplanes are quite similar in design to the main wings, serving to ensure a smooth airflow along their surface for optimal flight. When the airflow begins to separate from the tailplane, a tailplane stall will ensue. When a pilot is initially trained on how to fly an aircraft, they will have to study stalls, power-off stalls, cross-controlled stalls, spins, and accelerated maneuver stalls. With each of these conditions, pilots will learn their causes, how they can be avoided, and how to enact a recovery if they occur. That being said, one may ask how tailplane stalls are any different or more dangerous.

As compared to some other forms of stalling, tailplane stalls are very dramatic when they occur, and they very often lead to fatalities. Additionally, there is often not much hands-on training on how to recover from such incidents as a result of how unsafe they truly are. As a last major reason for why they present such a threat to pilots, while many aircraft have warning systems that are specifically designed to convey the onset of a stall to a pilot, these systems only account for main wing stalls. Generally, there is no type of warning horn or system that warns a pilot of an incoming tailplane stall. While aircraft lack warning systems for such incidents and pilots are unable to conduct hands-on training to be fully familiar with how to recover, tailspins are not guaranteed to be fatal every time. This is because ample research and testing has been conducted to determine optimal ways in which such stalls can be corrected.

Tailplane stalls regularly occur during the extension of flaps, such surfaces causing a nose down tendency and forward pitching moment that causes the tailplane to have an increased angle of attack. If the tailplane ceases to offer enough down-force to counteract changes, the nose will pitch forward violently as the stall ensues. Generally, the warning signs of an incoming tailplane stall include difficulty with trimming, the nose pitching down, elevator vibration, loss of elevator effectiveness, and the control wheel moving on its own. To recover from such instances, the general practice is to fully retract flaps, reduce power, raise the nose, and activate the deicing system to remove any formations that are affecting aerodynamics. By following these steps, you will have a much better chance to avoid any fatal hazard, and having an understanding of what leads to such a stall can also help you avoid ever having to recover.

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