A plane’s yaw refers to its movement around the vertical axis, which is a vertical line drawn through the plane’s roofs through its floor, perpendicular to its wings.

A plane’s yaw is an important metric since it determines the plane’s direction.

When the plane’s nose turns to the right, it’s referred to as positive yaw. Conversely, it’s called negative yaw when the plane turns towards the left.

The pilot controls the plane’s yaw via a set of pedals in the cockpit that control the rudder’s direction.

Movement along the plane’s other two axes is referred to as its pitch (transverse axis) and roll (longitudinal axis).

Why Understanding Yaw is Important

Yaw, along with pitch and roll, are the three directions that determine a plane’s heading and direction.

A pilot needs to be aware of their plane’s yaw to understand the direction it’s headed. 

If a plane yaws too much in one direction, the pilot needs to apply a compensatory force with the rudder to reverse it.

If not applied, the plane will fly in an unintended direction. 

So the yaw is very important because it determines the plane’s direction of flight. 

The Difference Between Pitch, Roll, and Yaw

Yaw, roll, and pitch are the three dimensions that aircraft move in.

A pilot controls all three with multiple instruments, like the rudder for yaw. 

Pitch (Transverse Axis)

Pitch refers to movement along the transverse axis, which extends from wingtip to wingtip.

This axis controls the plane’s pitch movement.

The pilot controls the pitch using the control yoke.

Moving the control yoke forward or backward controls the plane’s elevator. 

The elevator is located at the trailing edge of the plane’s horizontal tail wing. It’s sometimes also referred to as the plane’s horizontal stabilizer. 

Roll (Longitudinal Axis)

Roll refers to control over the plane’s longitudinal axis.

The longitudinal axis refers to a line from the plane’s nose to its tail.

Pilots control the plane’s roll through the plane’s ailerons.

The ailerons are the trailing edges of the plane’s wings. 

The pilot deflects the ailerons up or down to increase lift on one wing.

Increasing lift in one of the wings causes the entire plane to rotate along the longitudinal axis. 

Yaw (Vertical Axis)

Yaw refers to the plane’s vertical movement.

The vertical axis runs from the plane’s top to its bottom.

Pilots control yaw using the rudder, the trailing edge of the plane’s standing tail fin. 

Pilots move the plane’s rudder with a left and right pedal that correspond to the rudder’s direction of movement.

Moving the rudder left or right moves the rudder in the same direction. 

Why it’s Called Yaw

Yaw is an old nautical term with unknown origins.

Yaw was first used in print in the 16th century as a noun, referring to the side-to-side movement of ships.

Since then, it’s also been used for planes. 

What is Adverse Yaw?

Adverse yaw is an aerial phenomenon in which a plane rolls in the opposite of the desired direction due to a difference in the lift and drag of each wing.

Adverse yaw is experienced when the pilot deflects the ailerons, increasing the lift generated by one wing. 

The initial difference in lift between the two wings causes the plane to rotate in the opposite of the intended direction.

Pilots reduce adverse yaw by using the plane’s rudder to increase yaw in the desired direction. 

Positive and Negative Yaw

A positive yaw motion moves the nose of the plane to the right.

A negative yaw motion moves the plane’s nose to the left. 

What is a Yaw Damper?

A yaw damper is a system for reducing or damping the tendency of aircraft to experience Dutch rolls.

A Dutch roll refers to a plane’s undesirable tendency to oscillate repetitively during a yawing motion. 

A yaw damper controls the plane’s rudder and applies corrections whenever it detects undesirable side-to-side movement. 

How Does a Yaw Damper Work?

The yaw damper is controlled through an extra set of feet on the plane’s rudder pedals in the cockpit.

The yaw dampers work automatically.

The plane’s accelerometers monitor the plane’s motion, and the pilot moves the rudder in the desired direction to prevent the Dutch roll. 

The autopilot controls yaw dampers, since preventing Dutch rolls requires repeated small corrections.

It’s easier to have an automated system serve this function than increase the pilot’s workload. 

What is a Yaw Angle?

A plane’s yaw angle is the angle formed between the symmetry of the plane and the relative wind.

The yaw angle is positive when the plane turns to the right, and it’s negative when the plane turns to the left. 

In conclusion:

  • Yaw refers to movement, or rotation, around a plane’s vertical axis.
  • A plane’s vertical axis is a vertical line from the plane’s roof to its floor.
  • A plane’s yaw is important since it determines the plane’s direction and heading.
  • A plane’s yaw is positive when the plane’s nose turns toward the right, and it’s negative when the plane turns toward the left.
  • The other two dimensions of a plane are referred to as its pitch, the transverse axis, and the roll, the longitudinal axis. All three dimensions collectively determine the plane’s movement.
  • A plane’s yaw is controlled by the rudder, while the plane’s axis and roll are controlled with a control yoke in the cockpit.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.