Aircraft are defined by their wings. The shape, size, and configuration will affect all aspects of an aircraft’s performance and specifications. Wings are airfoils, shapes designed to create lift when moving rapidly through the air. This lift, combined with the thrust generated by the aircraft’s engine or engines, is what allows an aircraft to fly.
Wings come in various different configurations and shapes, depending on the requirements of the aircraft and its intended use. A wing’s shape will determine how much lift it generates, how the aircraft controls at various operating speeds, stability, balance, and more. Both the trailing edge and leading edge of an aircraft wing can be curved or straight, and wings can attach at various points on the fuselage- bottom, middle, or on the top. There is also the wing dihedral angle, which is the angle at which the wing is set, either perpendicular, or angled up or down.
Aircraft wings are typically built in a complete cantilever design, meaning that they do not require external bracing or support, and are internally supported by structural members and the aircraft’s string. Some designs, however, do feature external wires or struts to prevent vibration and maintain structural integrity. Most wings are built from aluminum, but older aircraft will use wood frames covered in fabric. Modern aircraft often use carbon fiber materials in their construction as well. Wings typically consist of stringers and spars that run spanwise, and formers, bulkheads, and ribs that run chordwise, from leading edge to trailing edge.
Common wing shapes include:
The rectangular wing is easy to manufacture, and features a non-tapered, straight design used mostly in small aircraft that extends from the fuselage at a 90 degree angle. However, rectangular wings are not very aerodynamically efficient.
These wings are very aerodynamically efficient and induce minimal drag. However, they are very difficult to manufacture. Elliptical wings were originally designed for military aircraft to house landing gear, guns, and ammunition inside a wing. The ellipse shape was designed to offer the thinnest possible wing, all while holding all these components.
Created as a compromise between elliptical and rectangular designs, tapered wings feature a chord that gradually grows smaller closer to the tip. While not as efficient as elliptical wings, tapered wings offer a compromise between efficiency and manufacturability.
Most modern aircraft feature swept-back wings, as they reduce drag and maintain controllability while flying at transonic speeds.
Essentially a massive triangle-shaped wing, delta designs are a very low aspect ratio wing used in supersonic aircraft. Delta wings are efficient in all phases of flight, subsonic, transonic, and supersonic, and offers a large surface area which improves maneuverability and reduces wing load. Delta wings are also structurally sound, possess a large volume for fuel storage, and are simple to manufacture and maintain. However, delta wings create lots of drag, and at low speed operations they force a high angle of attack because of vortices creating lift, which makes take-offs and landings challenging.
These designs feature wings that are mounted on mechanical hinges that let them alter their profile mid-flight that can sweep the wing back and forth. This lets the wings alter their profiles to be more suitable for low speed or high speed operations. However, these wings are very mechanically complex, and require lots of maintenance.
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