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What does the small wing on the tail of an airplane do?
The horizontal stabilizer, or rear wing, helps keep the airplane in level flight. This means it prevents the nose from tilting up or down, keeping the center of lift over the center of gravity. Without the stabilizer, the airplane's center of gravity is forward of the wing's center of lift. In other words, the nose tilts down because it's heavier than the tail, which makes the airplane unbalanced. The horizontal stabilizer also holds one of the plane's control surfaces known as the elevator. The elevator helps the airplane pitch up or down. Not all airplanes have a wing in the back, and some don't have one at all. The 1903 Wright Flyer had a horizontal stabilizer in the front, called a canard. Tailless airplanes, like flying wings and the Blended Wing Body (BWB), don't have horizontal stabilizers, but use elevons instead. You can see the actual 1903 Wright Flyer and a BWB test model at the National Air and Space Museum. Learn about the 1903 Wright Flyer and the Blended Wing Body on our website.
Thanks for the great question!