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I have seen pictures of World War I-era airplanes that have rudders much smaller than today. When did the first rudder come out?

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  • $\begingroup$ One point worth keeping in kind is that those WW1 airplanes w/ small rudders often had no fixed vertical tail acting in opposition to the rudder. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Sep 28 '19 at 17:46
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Planes as early as the wright glider (1902) had a rudder, it appears from pictures that the 1900 and 1901 variants did not have rudders but its hard to tell from the photos.

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Depending on your definition if you are talking about powered flight the Wright Flyer (1903) had 2 rudders much like its earlier glider predecessor.

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In the lighter than air category, the Giffard Dirigible (1852) had a sail like rudder in the aft of the ship. So that may take the cake if you have consider it a true rudder.

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Side Note: Patented in 1930 the V-Tail design could be argued as the first design that did not (as far as I know) employ a rudder. The earlier Beechcraft Bonanza's are the most common plane of that design in commercial production. There is quite a bit of debate as to the safety of ruddervators and the general theme seems to be that they are not perfect and do require some care to fly properly.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Wright photos here are misleading: the first shows the 1902 glider with fixed rudders. They switched to (single, then double) move-able (coupled to the wing warping) rudders later in 1902. The second photo shows a Model A in 1908. $\endgroup$ – amI Sep 28 '19 at 8:04
  • $\begingroup$ @aml What's a "fixed rudder"? I thought that rudders had to be movable in order to accomplish their function of allowing the pilot to command a yaw. $\endgroup$ – Terran Swett Sep 28 '19 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ @TannerSwett - the Wrights wanted a 'bank & yank' design, but had adverse yaw. They tried a fixed vertical stab but it didn't work well enough. Orville conceived of making it move-able, and Wilbur designed roll coupled cables (rather than a separate yaw control). Back then, 'rudder' could apply to any appendage that gave directional stability or control. (Additional fins would later be added to distribute the stability [lacking a fuselage to act as a keel] to prevent weather-vaning.) $\endgroup$ – amI Sep 29 '19 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ "Rudder could apply to any appendage..." In German it still does. The primary control surfaces are called Höhenruder, Seitenruder, Querruder. $\endgroup$ – Camille Goudeseune Oct 6 '19 at 20:32
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1785, when Jean-Pierre Blanchard

crossed the English Channel in a balloon equipped with flapping wings for propulsion and a birdlike tail for steering

according to pages 26-27 of L. Winter and G. Denger's "Minute Epics of Flight," published 1933.

We don't have photos, but we do have a woodcut.balloon with flapping wings and tail

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Rudder itself was used before the Wright. It was just the idea of a rudder on a boat. Otto Lilienthal flew a glider which had a tail with a modern look in 1894:

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Source

Actually the whole airplane has a modern look, like the cambered wing, Lilienthal was an aerodynamicist, he invented the polar curve.

Note: The rudder is not meant to control the aircraft direction --this is done by rolling the wing,-- but to counteract the adverse yaw which develops when the wing is rolled (more drag on the upper half of the wing). This effect can be obtained even with a fixed rudder (the turn will not be coordinated, but this tends to prevent a spiral dive).

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Adverse yaw in a roll (source, more in this answer)

So the size of the rudder is proportional to this force, which is smaller on small wings.

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  • $\begingroup$ The fixed vertical surface can be traced back to arrows – they are around since the stone age. The movable vertical surface can also be traced back to antiquity – all ships needed those. The movable, centerline-mounted rudder on ships was invented in the Middle Ages. That should be the most likely answer. All hydrodynamic experience was later transferred to aerodynamics. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Sep 28 '19 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf, "[stone age] should be the most likely answer": This question is explicitly related to aircraft only, not to arrows or ships, so that wouldn't be a valid answer. However I weighted talking about Clément Ader, but that was a bit controversial. $\endgroup$ – mins Sep 28 '19 at 10:05
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The Wright Flyer had two rudders. That flew in 1903. Some of the wright bros. earlier gliders also had rudders ... To test the technology and to determine the optimum size.

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The 1785 balloon answer is interesting. However, we might note that flapping wings would be extremely ineffective at propelling a balloon, and a rudder will have no significant effect on a free (unpropelled) balloon. With that in mind, we might conclude that George Cayley was the first to suggest the use of a rudder in a practical way on an aircraft.

In 1799 George Cayley inscribed a coin with a picture of a design for a glider that appears to include a movable rudder. By 1804 he had built a flying model glider that included a cruciform tail that could be adjusted on the ground both in the pitch and yaw dimensions. By 1848 he had created an illustration of a full-scale glider that included a similar tail that could be adjusted in flight. He tested a full-scale glider built along these lines in 1849, and a larger similar glider in 1853.

Here is one link that covers Cayley's work: http://www.flyingmachines.org/cayl.html

More recently, the Wright brothers first used a moveable rudder on their 1902 glider, and also used one on their famous 1903 airplane, generally recognized as the first airplane capable of sustained, controlled flight.

Having said all that, I wouldn't be surprised if someone located an earlier example of a rudder in a drawing or even an operational (small) model airplane or glider. It is a fairly intuitive concept, deriving directly from naval technology-- in fact, the naval precedents might well have tended to lead early inventors to overestimate the advantages and results of having a movable rudder on an airplane.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the 1785 "oars" and rudder were nautically inspired and must have been entirely ineffective. But the rudder was at least intended to work and, for all we know, they thought that it worked. This wouldn't be aviation's last failed experiment by any means! $\endgroup$ – Camille Goudeseune Oct 6 '19 at 20:27

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