Free-space optical communications (FSOCs) have recently emerged as a promising solution for various communication scenarios. However, the pointing, acquisition, and tracking (PAT) is a technically challenging issue, especially in airborne FSOC systems. In this paper, we present an adaptive beam control technique combined with beaconless PAT using a variable focus lens. By using the lens whose focal length can be tuned electrically, we facilitate the coarse PAT by enlarging the beam size and also mitigate the adverse effects of pointing errors by adjusting the beam divergence angle adaptively to the link conditions. The major benefit of the proposed scheme is that the beam control can be implemented in a simple and compact manner, without relying on mechanical movements. We carry out a proof-of-concept experimental demonstration of the proposed scheme for a 10-Gb/s free-space optical link over 104 m. The demonstration shows that the probability of PAT success can be improved considerably by using the proposed scheme. It also shows that the proposed scheme could result in a system loss reduction of 6.4 dB and improve the tolerance to pointing errors up to 500 mu rad for a target bit-error ratio of 10(-3). The response time of the lens is measured to be <211 ms. We confirm experimentally that the receiver size and the amount of pointing error determine the optimum beam size at the receiver. (C) 2021 Author(s).