I am making a flight sim and would like some help. If I am correct, the angle of attack on the horizontal stabilizer should look something like this:

aoa(Hstab) = aoa(Wing) - downwash + Hstab incidence

From research, the AOA of the Hstab should be negative most of the time, however, that just doesn't seem to happen. For example, if the plane is flying at an AOA of 8 degrees, the downwash won't be more than 3 or 4 degrees, and the horizontal stabilizer incidence won't be less than -1 or -2 degrees. So how is the aoa of the Hstab ever negative, if 8 - 4 - 2 is positive?

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    $\begingroup$ For stability the stab's AoA need not be negative, it just needs to be less than the wing's. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ Is the stab's own incidence really no lower than -2 degrees? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ @CamilleGoudeseune , so let's say for instance this scenario. The AOA of the wing is 8 degrees. The downwash angle is subsequently 3 degrees, and the horizontal stabilizer incidence is -1 degree. 8 - 3 - 1 is 4 degrees. This means that the AOA of the horizontal stabilizer is 4 degrees, therefore it will produce lift upwards in the same direction of the wing, therefore it will contribute to the pitching forwards moment of the wing, pitching the plane forwards. How is that stable? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ I see confusion from the lack of a distinction between stability and trim in a lot of the discussion. I can set the stab AOA to be in line with the wing's zero lift AOA and my airplane will be a very stable ballistic dart. To make it fly I have to force the wing to a positive AOA, by trimming it with the rear surface to oppose the wing's pitching moment until an equilibrium is reached at some wing AOA. Stability forces do their thing by acting with restorative forces on either side of that equilibrium point as required. Thus stability and trim are separate but interrelated things are they not? $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 4:56
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    $\begingroup$ @zander: perfect. If you choose the AoA of the wing to do your calculations then just remember that the incidence of the horizontal stabilisers have to be given in respect to the one of the wing. And no, positive lift from the horizontal stabilisers doesn't imply an unstable airplane (think about a canard as an extreme example). $\endgroup$
    – sophit
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 12:34

1 Answer 1


Your formula is correct, and there is no need for the AoA of the horizontal tail to be negative. It only needs to be less than that of the wing (relative to the zero-lift angle). Stability is determined not by the direction of the lift force on the tail, but its gradient over AoA.


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