Flight control surfaces are common aircraft devices that allow for pilots to manipulate the flight dynamics of the vehicle. Coming in the form of aviation parts such as ailerons, elevators, rudders, spoilers, and flaps, flight control surfaces are paramount for the efficiency and optimization of piloting and flight. As aircraft often operate in environments where they may face strong winds, prop washer, or jet efflux hazards, various means of protection are implemented in order to ensure the safety of such components.
Generally, the most common form of damage that flight control surfaces face is from sudden movements which can affect structures, actuator system components, and other aircraft parts. Such occurrences can often happen during ground operations or while the aircraft is parked, warranting the need for constant protection when the aircraft is faced with strong gusts of wind. As flight control surface damage may be hard to discover from the flight deck or from typical pre-flight inspections, it is always crucial that more rigorous inspection is conducted when one suspects something has occurred.
To ensure that aircraft flight control surfaces are protected from the strong winds that they may commonly face, 14 CFR 25.415 or EASA CS 25.415 regulations require that certified aircraft are capable of withstanding wind speeds of 65 knots directed at any side of the aircraft while it is either taxiing or parked on a runway. With these regulations, pilots should still be adamant about overseeing controls while operating the aircraft and should ensure that unused controls are locked in place for safety. For larger transportation aircraft, controls are often protected automatically through a gust dampening function as hydraulic systems are unpowered. In aircraft that feature cable operated flight surfaces, such as smaller aircraft and older transports, a gust lock may be implemented externally to the surface in order to ensure protection. Mechanical locks may also benefit a variety of lighter aircraft, often being used for locking aircraft ailerons and the aircraft stabilizer.
As airports and aircraft operators often plan ahead for future weather conditions, knowing if there will be strong winds coming in the future can be beneficial for ensuring proper placement and protection of an aircraft. For the most optimal parking in strong wind, the nose of the aircraft should be placed into the direction of the gusts, and chocks can be installed on the landing gear. As the direction of wind may change over time, one should adjust the direction of the aircraft as necessary. With aircraft that are much larger in size, the orientation of the vehicle may be less concerning, and certain structures and buildings may aid in breaking the speed and force of gusts. Nevertheless, any effort to orient and lock the aircraft can be beneficial for safety.
When keeping an aircraft out in strong winds overnight, monitoring conditions becomes ever more important. If an aircraft is lighter in weight due to spending most of its fuel, winds may have a greater influence over structures, leading to the possible damage of flight control surfaces. If strong winds are forecasted for the night, operators of narrow-bodied aircraft may fill their fuel tanks to add weight. As winds can even affect larger turboprops when reaching high speeds, protection should never be ignored by any operator or owner regardless of aircraft size.
While taking preventative measures can go lengths for protecting vulnerable aircraft and aviation parts, the most important aspect of safety is to ensure that any damage is found before the next flight operation. As a flight crew may not find such occurrences during typical inspections, it is always recommended that one relies on a licensed engineer who will conduct a more thorough investigation. If any damage is found upon inspections, the aircraft should not be operated until cleared by an engineer as to ensure safety and airworthiness.
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