What is Pitch, Roll and Yaw ?

Pitch Roll and Yaw

Do you enjoy the feeling of Pitch, Roll and Yaw, or does it makes you feel a bit sick?


Here’s the thing – chances are you’ve already experienced Pitch, Roll and Yaw first hand at some time in your life and may not have even realized it.


Yes, that means you, assuming you’ve ever been abroad on holiday or visited somewhere by airplane.


OK so you can definitely remember taking off and landing, that’s the exciting part (or scary bit if you don’t like flying). But when did you experience Yaw? Is that even a real word!? Yes, it’s a strange one isn’t it!?


Pitch, Roll and Yaw are also known as axes of rotation, and it’s these that during your flight that controls your movement and direction in the air.

No 3D Glasses Required – Axes Of Rotation

In a vehicle that travels flat on the ground like a car or truck, or on the surface of the water like a boat, you generally only travel in 2 dimensions – straight and level (assuming the boat doesn’t have a hole in the bottom)!


But on an aircraft, spacecraft or underwater submarine, you have the added 3rd dimension of depth to deal with as well. This is where things get a little more complex and axes of rotation come into play.


An axis can be thought of as a real or imaginary line about which an object, such as an aircraft, can and will rotate around. 


The Earth is a great example of something that rotates around an axis;


Earth Axis



Pitch, Roll and Yaw, which are also known as the “Principal Axes” or “Axes of Rotation”, cover the following;


  • Lateral Axis (Pitch)
  • Longitudinal Axis (Roll)
  • Vertical Axis (Yaw).


When an aircraft is in flight, it is able to use these axes which run through its center of gravity and rotate in 3 dimensions which in turn will control its direction.


In the case of an airplane, this is achieved using the flaps on the wings and tail, and on a Quadcopter by using changes to the speed and power of the rotors.


Pitch, Roll and Yaw In Action

It’s important you understand the basics of aircraft movement and principal axes so you can become a skilled and competent pilot, especially if you are new to flying a Drone or Quadcopter.


Here’s a bit more of a detailed explanation of each of these terms;


PITCH is the rotation of the vehicle fixed between the side to side axis (on an airplane wingtip to wingtip) also called the lateral or transverse axis.


This movement means the vehicle’s nose and tail will move up and down as seen below.








If the pitch is positive then this would raise the front end and lower the tail end.


This is used to help manage ascent and descent.


ROLL is the rotation of the vehicle on the front to back axis (nose to tail) and is also called longitudinal axis.


As the name suggests, a rolling movement up and down of the wings of the aircraft is achieved as per below.








The vehicle when making a turn moves to one side or the other by “banking” left or right.


A positive roll angle will lift the left side wing and lower the right one.


Once the turn is completed the wings will return to a level position to resume flying straight.


YAW is the rotation around the vertical axis and lies perpendicular to the wings of an aircraft and in the center line.


The yaw motion is a side to side nose movement of the aircraft as shown below from its center of gravity.








A positive yaw would move the nose to the right.


Yaw changes the direction the aircraft is pointing and can be prevented by the use of the rudder.

Quadcopter Pitch, Roll and Yaw (with added Throttle)

OK, so now let’s apply this to flying a Quadcopter;



DJI Spark - Main 7




PITCHThis moves the Quadcopter on the side axis, so it would tilt it up and down from front to back.


By doing this it causes the vehicle to move forwards or backwards depending on which way it is tilted.


A good analogy is nodding your head up and down when using a “yes” gesture.



ROLL This moves the Quadcopter on the long ( longitudinal) axis, so it would tilt side to side.


This causes the vehicle to move to one side or the other depending on the tilt – banking left or right.


Another way to think of this is moving your ears towards your shoulders so your head tilts to either side.



YAW This moves the Quadcopter around in a clockwise/anticlockwise rotation as it stays level to the ground.


This changes the direction of the vehicle accordingly.


Again the analogy here would be shaking your head when using a “no” gesture.



THROTTLEHere we can give a mention to the Throttle, whilst not a directional element like Pitch, Roll and Yaw, it does control altitude of the vehicle – getting you airborne – and of course speed.



We hope you found this introduction informative and useful.


Click here for more of our Drone Guides and Information.


You can also check out all our Reviews for the best choices in Drones and Quadcopters which is always being updated.


Happy flying and watch out for too much Yaw!


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  1. After reading your editions, I quickly thought of enrolling me for a course of how to drive drones because I never knew these courses exit online.

    Right now, Im planning to join a company that is specialised in drones services.

    All this has been possible because of the information that you provided here at your site.

    In order to thank you, i decided to come back to this site and drop you a message of thanks.


    1. Hi Jose,

      Thanks for your comments and great to hear you are looking into drones services further, this is a big growth area in business and I wish you every success. If I can help further please let me know.

      Thanks again, Nigel

  2. Hey Nigel,
    I enjoyed your site. I took flying lessons when I was 16 years old (a long time ago) so I am familiar with the terms and how they apply to flight and movements in the air.

    This will come in handy as I am contemplating buying a drone for photo purposes.

    Very enjoyable to read!

    1. Thanks for the comments Forest, glad you found it enjoyable. We are continually updating the site with more information which we hope will be useful and if you ever have any specific questions we would be happy to help.

      Cheers, Nigel

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