Flaps are deployed in stages using a lever to the right of the throttle. Whilst deploying the flaps generates lift, it also generates more drag. Pilots use procedures and experience to decide when to move the flaps and by how much. On small aircraft, flaps typically have three simple settings, such as ‘up’, ‘takeoff’ and ‘landing’. Flaps on larger aircraft are deployed in stages. In Boeing aircraft, these are referenced to the degrees of deployment, with flaps being set to 1°, 5°, 10°, 30° or 40°. The flap settings on Airbus aircraft are simply referred to as 1, 2, 3 and full. The flap handles on some aircraft are even designed in the shape of a flap, giving an extra tactile clue to the pilot in busy workflows.
As the high lift devices have such a fundamental effect on the aircraft, the actions of a flight crew when operating the flaps can be make or break in an emergency situation. After experiencing a dual engine failure on final approach to Heathrow Airport (LHR) in 2009, the crew of British Airways flight BA38’s decision to partially retract the flaps enabled the aircraft to safely reach the runway. On the flipside, the failure to set the flaps for takeoff at all led directly to the crash of Northwest Airlines flight 255 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) in August 1987.
What are the different types of flap?
There are several different types of flaps used in aircraft design, each with its own unique characteristics and advantages. Let’s take a simplified look at the most common types.
Plain Flaps – these are simple hinged surfaces that extend downward from the wing when deployed. They increase the wing’s camber, enhancing lift generation at lower speeds. Plain flaps are easy to design and maintain, and they are common on light aircraft. They produce a considerable amount of drag when fully deployed.
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