A fixed-wing aircraft is an aircraft, such as an airplane or aeroplane
(See spelling differences), which is capable of flight using wings
that generate lift caused by the vehicle's forward airspeed and the
shape of the wings.
Fixed-wing aircraft are distinct from rotary-wing
aircraft, in which the wings form a rotor mounted on a spinning shaft,
and ornithopters, in which the wings flap in similar manner to a bird.
Glider fixed-wing aircraft, including free-flying gliders of various
kinds and tethered kites, can use moving air to gain height. Powered
fixed-wing aircraft that gain forward thrust from an engine
(aeroplanes) include powered paragliders, powered hang gliders and
some ground effect vehicles.
The wings of a fixed-wing aircraft are not necessarily rigid; kites,
hang-gliders, variable-sweep wing aircraft and aeroplanes using
wing-warping are all fixed-wing aircraft. Most fixed-wing aircraft are
flown by a pilot on board the aircraft, but some are designed to be
remotely or computer-controlled.
1.1 Early kites
1.2 Gliders and powered models
1.3 Powered flight
1.4 World War I
1.5 Interwar aviation in the "Golden Age"
1.6 World War II
2 Classes of fixed-wing aircraft
2.1.2 Powered gliders
2.1.3 Ground effect vehicle
2.2.1 Types of glider
188.8.131.52 Military gliders
184.108.40.206 Research gliders
220.127.116.11 Hang glider
2.2.2 Unmanned gliders
18.104.22.168 Military applications
22.214.171.124 Science and meteorology
126.96.36.199 Radio aerials and light beacons
188.8.131.52 Power generation
184.108.40.206 Cultural uses
3.4 Wings vs. bodies
3.4.1 Flying wing
Blended wing body
3.4.3 Lifting body
Empennage and foreplane
3.6.2 Free-flying aircraft controls
3.7 Cockpit instrumentation
4 See also
6 External links
Aviation history and Early flying machines
Kites were used approximately 2,800 years ago in China, where
materials ideal for kite building were readily available. Some authors
hold that leaf kites were being flown much earlier in what is now
Sulawesi, based on their interpretation of cave paintings on Muna
Island off Sulawesi. By at least 549 AD paper kites were being
flown, as it was recorded in that year a paper kite was used as a
message for a rescue mission. Ancient and medieval Chinese sources
list other uses of kites for measuring distances, testing the wind,
lifting men, signaling, and communication for military operations.
Boys flying a kite in 1828 Bavaria, by Johann Michael Voltz
Stories of kites were brought to
Marco Polo towards the end
of the 13th century, and kites were brought back by sailors from Japan
Malaysia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although they were
initially regarded as mere curiosities, by the 18th and 19th centuries
kites were being used as vehicles for scientific research.
Gliders and powered models
Around 400 BC in Greece,
Archytas was reputed to have designed and
built the first artificial, self-propelled flying device, a
bird-shaped model propelled by a jet of what was probably steam, said
to have flown some 200 m (660 ft). This machine may
have been suspended for its flight.
Some of the earliest recorded attempts with gliders were those by the
Abbas Ibn Firnas and the 11th-century monk Eilmer of
Malmesbury; both experiments injured their pilots.
Le Bris and his glider, Albatros II, photographed by Nadar, 1868
Sir George Cayley
Sir George Cayley set forth the concept of the modern
aeroplane as a fixed-wing flying machine with separate systems for
lift, propulsion, and control. Cayley was building and flying
models of fixed-wing aircraft as early as 1803, and he built a
successful passenger-carrying glider in 1853. In 1856, Frenchman
Jean-Marie Le Bris
Jean-Marie Le Bris made the first powered flight, by having his glider
"L'Albatros artificiel" pulled by a horse on a beach.
In 1884, the American
John J. Montgomery made controlled flights in a
glider as a part of a series of gliders built between 1883-1886.
Other aviators who made similar flights at that time were Otto
Lilienthal, Percy Pilcher, and Octave Chanute.
In the 1890s,
Lawrence Hargrave conducted research on wing structures
and developed a box kite that lifted the weight of a man. His box kite
designs were widely adopted. Although he also developed a type of
rotary aircraft engine, he did not create and fly a powered fixed-wing
Aviation in the pioneer era
Sir Hiram Maxim
Sir Hiram Maxim built a craft that weighed 3.5 tons, with a 110-foot
(34-meter) wingspan that was powered by two 360-horsepower (270-kW)
steam engines driving two propellers. In 1894, his machine was tested
with overhead rails to prevent it from rising. The test showed that it
had enough lift to take off. The craft was uncontrollable, which
Maxim, it is presumed, realized, because he subsequently abandoned
work on it.
Wright Flyer III
Wright Flyer III piloted by Orville Wright over Huffman Prairie, 4
The Wright brothers' flights in 1903 with their Flyer I are recognized
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the standard
setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics, as "the first
sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight". By
Wright Flyer III
Wright Flyer III was capable of fully controllable, stable
flight for substantial periods.
Santos-Dumont's self-propelled 14-bis on an old postcard
In 1906, Brazilian inventor
Alberto Santos Dumont
Alberto Santos Dumont designed, built and
piloted an aircraft that set the first world record recognized by the
Aéro-Club de France
Aéro-Club de France by flying the
14 bis 220 metres (720 ft) in
less than 22 seconds. The flight was certified by the FAI.
This was the first controlled flight, to be officially recognised, by
a plane able to take off under its own power alone without any
auxiliary machine such as a catapult.
Bleriot VIII design of 1908 was an early aircraft design that had
the modern monoplane tractor configuration. It had movable tail
surfaces controlling both yaw and pitch, a form of roll control
supplied either by wing warping or by ailerons and controlled by its
pilot with a joystick and rudder bar. It was an important predecessor
of his later
Bleriot XI Channel-crossing aircraft of the summer of
Curtiss NC-4 flying boat after it completed the first crossing of the
Atlantic by a fixed-wing heavier-than-air aircraft in 1919.
World War I
World War I
World War I served as a testbed for the use of the aircraft as a
Aircraft demonstrated their potential as mobile observation
platforms, then proved themselves to be machines of war capable of
causing casualties to the enemy. The earliest known aerial victory
with a synchronised machine gun-armed fighter aircraft occurred in
1915, by German
Luftstreitkräfte Leutnant Kurt Wintgens. Fighter aces
appeared; the greatest (by number of air victories) was Manfred von
Following WWI, aircraft technology continued to develop. Alcock and
Brown crossed the Atlantic non-stop for the first time in 1919. The
first commercial flights took place between the United States and
Canada in 1919.
Interwar aviation in the "Golden Age"
Aviation between the World Wars
The so-called Golden Age of
Aviation occurred between the two World
Wars, during which both updated interpretations of earlier
breakthroughs — as with Hugo Junkers' pioneering of all-metal
airframes in 1915 leading to giant multi-engined aircraft of up to 60+
meter wingspan sizes by the early 1930s, adoption of the mostly
air-cooled radial engine as a practical aircraft powerplant alongside
powerful V-12 liquid-cooled aviation engines, and ever-greater
instances of long-distance flight attempts - as with a Vickers Vimy in
1919, followed only months later by the U.S. Navy's NC-4 transatlantic
flight; culminating in May 1927 with Charles Lindbergh's solo
trans-Atlantic flight in the
Spirit of St. Louis
Spirit of St. Louis spurring ever-longer
flight attempts, pioneering the way for long-distance flights of the
future to become commonplace.
World War II
Aeroplanes had a presence in all the major battles of World War II.
They were an essential component of the military strategies of the
period, such as the German
Blitzkrieg or the American and Japanese
aircraft carrier campaigns of the Pacific.
Military gliders were developed and used in several campaigns, but
they did not become widely used due to the high casualty rate often
Focke-Achgelis Fa 330
Focke-Achgelis Fa 330 Bachstelze (Wagtail) rotor kite
of 1942 was notable for its use by German submarines.
Before and during the war, both British and German designers were
developing jet engines to power aeroplanes. The first jet aircraft to
fly, in 1939, was the German Heinkel He 178. In 1943, the first
operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262, went into service
with the German
Luftwaffe and later in the war the British Gloster
Meteor entered service but never saw action — top airspeeds of
aircraft for that era went as high as 1,130 km/h (702 mph),
with the early July 1944 unofficial record flight of the German Me
163B V18 rocket fighter prototype.
In October 1947, the
Bell X-1 was the first aircraft to exceed the
speed of sound.
In 1948–49, aircraft transported supplies during the Berlin
Blockade. New aircraft types, such as the B-52, were produced during
the Cold War.
The first jet airliner, the de Havilland Comet, was introduced in
1952, followed by the Soviet
Tupolev Tu-104 in 1956. The Boeing 707,
the first widely successful commercial jet, was in commercial service
for more than 50 years, from 1958 to 2010. The
Boeing 747 was the
world's biggest passenger aircraft from 1970 until it was surpassed by
Airbus A380 in 2005.
Classes of fixed-wing aircraft
Main article: Airplane
An aeroplane (also known as an airplane or simply a plane) is a
powered fixed-wing aircraft that is propelled forward by thrust from a
jet engine or propeller. Planes come in a variety of sizes, shapes,
and wing configurations. The broad spectrum of uses for planes
includes recreation, transportation of goods and people, military, and
Main article: Seaplane
A seaplane is a fixed-wing aircraft capable of taking off and landing
(alighting) on water. Seaplanes that can also operate from dry land
are a subclass called amphibian aircraft. These aircraft were
sometimes called hydroplanes. Seaplanes and amphibians are usually
divided into two categories based on their technological
characteristics: floatplanes and flying boats.
A floatplane is similar in overall design to a land-based aeroplane,
with a generally unmodified fuselage from as compared to its landplane
version, except that the wheels at the base of the undercarriage are
replaced by floats, allowing the craft to operate from water rather
than from dry land.
A flying boat is a seaplane with a watertight hull forming the lower
(ventral) areas of its fuselage, resting directly on the water's
surface. It differs from a float plane as it does not need additional
floats for buoyancy, although it may have small underwing floats or
fuselage-mount sponsons to stabilize it on the water. Large seaplanes
are usually flying boats, with most classic amphibian aircraft designs
using some form of flying-boat design for their fuselage/hull.
Many forms of glider (see below) may be modified by adding a small
power plant. These include:
Motor glider - a conventional glider or sailplane with an auxiliary
power plant that may be used when in flight to increase performance.
Powered hang glider
Powered hang glider - a hang glider with a power plant added.
Powered parachute - a paraglider type of parachute with an integrated
airframe, seat, undercarriage and power plant hung beneath.
Powered paraglider or paramotor - a paraglider with a power plant
suspended behind the pilot.
Ground effect vehicle
Main article: Ground effect vehicle
A ground effect vehicle (GEV) is a craft that attains level flight
near the surface of the earth, making use of the ground effect – an
aerodynamic interaction between the wings and the earth's surface.
Some GEVs are able to fly higher out of ground effect (OGE) when
required – these are classed as powered fixed-wing aircraft.
A glider (sailplane) being winch-launched
Main article: Glider (aircraft)
A glider is a heavier-than-air craft that is supported in flight by
the dynamic reaction of the air against its lifting surfaces, and
whose free flight does not depend on an engine. A sailplane is a
fixed-wing glider designed for soaring - the ability to gain height in
updrafts of air and to fly for long periods.
Gliders are mainly used for recreation, but have also been used for
other purposes such as aerodynamics research, warfare and recovering
A motor glider does have an engine for extending its performance and
some have engines powerful enough to take off, but the engine is not
used in normal flight.
As is the case with planes, there are a wide variety of glider types
differing in the construction of their wings, aerodynamic efficiency,
location of the pilot and controls. Perhaps the most familiar type is
the toy paper plane.
Large gliders are most commonly launched by a tow-plane or by a winch.
Military gliders have been used in war to deliver assault troops, and
specialised gliders have been used in atmospheric and aerodynamic
Rocket-powered aircraft and spaceplanes have also made
Gliders and sailplanes that are used for the sport of gliding have
high aerodynamic efficiency. The highest lift-to-drag ratio is 70:1,
though 50:1 is more common. After launch, further energy is obtained
through the skillful exploitation of rising air in the atmosphere.
Flights of thousands of kilometres at average speeds over
200 km/h have been achieved.
The most numerous unpowered aircraft are paper aeroplanes, a handmade
type of glider. Like hang gliders and paragliders, they are
foot-launched and are in general slower, smaller, and less expensive
than sailplanes. Hang gliders most often have flexible wings given
shape by a frame, though some have rigid wings. Paragliders and paper
aeroplanes have no frames in their wings.
Gliders and sailplanes can share a number of features in common with
powered aircraft, including many of the same types of fuselage and
wing structures. For example, the
Horten H.IV was a tailless flying
wing glider, and the delta wing-shaped
Space Shuttle orbiter flew much
like a conventional glider in the lower atmosphere. Many gliders also
use similar controls and instruments as powered craft.
Types of glider
(video) A glider sails over Gunma, Japan.
The main application today of glider aircraft is sport and recreation.
Main article: Glider (sailplane)
Gliders were developed from the 1920s for recreational purposes. As
pilots began to understand how to use rising air, sailplane gliders
were developed with a high lift-to-drag ratio. These allowed longer
glides to the next source of 'lift', and so increase their chances of
flying long distances. This gave rise to the popular sport of gliding.
Early gliders were mainly built of wood and metal but the majority of
sailplanes now use composite materials incorporating glass, carbon or
aramid fibres. To minimise drag, these types have a streamlined
fuselage and long narrow wings having a high aspect ratio. Both
single-seat and two-seat gliders are available.
Initially training was done by short 'hops' in primary gliders which
are very basic aircraft with no cockpit and minimal instruments.
Since shortly after
World War II
World War II training has always been done in
two-seat dual control gliders, but high performance two-seaters are
also used to share the workload and the enjoyment of long flights.
Originally skids were used for landing, but the majority now land on
wheels, often retractable. Some gliders, known as motor gliders, are
designed for unpowered flight, but can deploy piston, rotary, jet or
electric engines. Gliders are classified by the FAI for
competitions into glider competition classes mainly on the basis of
span and flaps.
Ultralight "airchair" Goat 1 glider
A class of ultralight sailplanes, including some known as microlift
gliders and some as 'airchairs', has been defined by the FAI based on
a maximum weight. They are light enough to be transported easily, and
can be flown without licensing in some countries. Ultralight gliders
have performance similar to hang gliders, but offer some additional
crash safety as the pilot can be strapped in an upright seat within a
deformable structure. Landing is usually on one or two wheels which
distinguishes these craft from hang gliders. Several commercial
ultralight gliders have come and gone, but most current development is
done by individual designers and home builders.
A Waco CG-4A of the USAAF in 1943
Military gliders were used during
World War II
World War II for carrying troops
(glider infantry) and heavy equipment to combat zones. The gliders
were towed into the air and most of the way to their target by
military transport planes, e.g. C-47 Dakota, or by bombers that had
been relegated to secondary activities, e.g. Short Stirling. Once
released from the tow near the target, they landed as close to the
target as possible. The advantage over paratroopers were that heavy
equipment could be landed and that the troops were quickly assembled
rather than being dispersed over a drop zone. The gliders were treated
as disposable, leading to construction from common and inexpensive
materials such as wood, though a few were retrieved and re-used. By
the time of the Korean War, transport aircraft had also become larger
and more efficient so that even light tanks could be dropped by
parachute, causing gliders to fall out of favor.
Even after the development of powered aircraft, gliders continued to
be used for aviation research. The
NASA Paresev Rogallo flexible wing
was originally developed to investigate alternative methods of
recovering spacecraft. Although this application was abandoned,
publicity inspired hobbyists to adapt the flexible-wing airfoil for
modern hang gliders.
Initial research into many types of fixed-wing craft, including flying
wings and lifting bodies was also carried out using unpowered
A hang glider is a glider aircraft in which the pilot is ensconced in
a harness suspended from the airframe, and exercises control by
shifting body weight in opposition to a control frame. Most modern
hang gliders are made of an aluminium alloy or composite-framed fabric
wing. Pilots have the ability to soar for hours, gain thousands of
metres of altitude in thermal updrafts, perform aerobatics, and glide
cross-country for hundreds of kilometres.
A paraglider is a lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider
aircraft with no rigid primary structure. The pilot sits in a
harness suspended below a hollow fabric wing whose shape is formed by
its suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front
of the wing and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the
outside. Paragliding is most often a recreational activity.
A paper plane is a toy aircraft (usually a glider) made out of paper
Model glider aircraft are models of aircraft using lightweight
materials such as polystyrene and balsa wood. Designs range from
simple glider aircraft to accurate scale models, some of which can be
Glide bombs are bombs with aerodynamic surfaces to allow a gliding
flightpath rather than a ballistic one. This enables the carrying
aircraft to attack a heavily defended target from a distance.
A kite in flight
Main article: Kite
A kite is an aircraft tethered to a fixed point so that the wind blows
over its wings. Lift is generated when air flows over the kite's
wing, producing low pressure above the wing and high pressure below
it, and deflecting the airflow downwards. This deflection also
generates horizontal drag in the direction of the wind. The resultant
force vector from the lift and drag force components is opposed by the
tension of the one or more rope lines or tethers attached to the wing.
Kites are mostly flown for recreational purposes, but have many other
uses. Early pioneers such as the
Wright Brothers and J.W. Dunne
sometimes flew an aircraft as a kite in order to develop it and
confirm its flight characteristics, before adding an engine and flight
controls, and flying it as an aeroplane.
See also: Rotor kite
Chinese dragon kite more than one hundred feet long which flew in the
Berkeley, California, kite festival in 2000
Kites have been used for signaling, for delivery of munitions, and for
observation, by lifting an observer above the field of battle, and by
using kite aerial photography.
Science and meteorology
Kites have been used for scientific purposes, such as Benjamin
Franklin's famous experiment proving that lightning is electricity.
Kites were the precursors to the traditional aircraft, and were
instrumental in the development of early flying craft. Alexander
Graham Bell experimented with very large man-lifting kites, as did the
Wright brothers and Lawrence Hargrave. Kites had a historical role in
lifting scientific instruments to measure atmospheric conditions for
Radio aerials and light beacons
Kites can be used to carry radio antennas. This method was used for
the reception station of the first transatlantic transmission by
Marconi. Captive balloons may be more convenient for such experiments,
because kite-carried antennas require a lot of wind, which may be not
always possible with heavy equipment and a ground conductor.
Kites can be used to carry light effects such as lightsticks or
battery powered lights.
A quad-line traction kite, commonly used as a power source for kite
Kites can be used to pull people and vehicles downwind. Efficient
foil-type kites such as power kites can also be used to sail upwind
under the same principles as used by other sailing craft, provided
that lateral forces on the ground or in the water are redirected as
with the keels, center boards, wheels and ice blades of traditional
sailing craft. In the last two decades, several kite sailing sports
have become popular, such as kite buggying, kite landboarding, kite
boating and kite surfing. Snow kiting has also become popular.
Kite sailing opens several possibilities not available in traditional
Wind speeds are greater at higher altitudes
Kites may be manoeuvered dynamically which increases the force
There is no need for mechanical structures to withstand bending
forces; vehicles or hulls can be very light or dispensed with all
See also: laddermill and High altitude wind power
Conceptual research and development projects by over a hundred
entities are investigating the use of kites in harnessing high
altitude wind currents to generate electricity.
Kite festivals are a popular form of entertainment throughout the
world. They include local events, traditional festivals and major
Delta (triangular) kite
Train of connected kites
Bowed kite, e.g. Rokkaku
Cellular or box kite
Foil, parafoil or bow kite
Malay kite see also wau bulan
Expanded polystyrene kite
Inflatable single-line kite
Rogallo parawing kite
Stunt (sport) kite
IAI Heron - an unmanned aerial vehicle with a twin-boom
Main article: Airframe
The structural parts of a fixed-wing aircraft are called the airframe.
The parts present can vary according to the aircraft's type and
purpose. Early types were usually made of wood with fabric wing
surfaces, When engines became available for a powered flight around a
hundred years ago, their mounts were made of metal. Then as speeds
increased more and more parts became metal until by the end of WWII
all-metal aircraft were common. In modern times, increasing use of
composite materials has been made.
Typical structural parts include:
One or more large horizontal wings, often with an airfoil
cross-section shape. The wing deflects air downward as the aircraft
moves forward, generating lifting force to support it in flight. The
wing also provides stability in roll to stop the aircraft from rolling
to the left or right in steady flight.
The An-225 Mriya, the largest airplane in the world, which can carry a
250-tonne payload, has two vertical stabilizers.
A fuselage, a long, thin body, usually with tapered or rounded ends to
make its shape aerodynamically smooth. The fuselage joins the other
parts of the airframe and usually contains important things such as
the pilot, payload and flight systems.
A vertical stabilizer or fin is a vertical wing-like surface mounted
at the rear of the plane and typically protruding above it. The fin
stabilizes the plane's yaw (turn left or right) and mounts the rudder
which controls its rotation along that axis.
A horizontal stabilizer, usually mounted at the tail near the vertical
stabilizer. The horizontal stabilizer is used to stabilize the plane's
pitch (tilt up or down) and mounts the elevators which provide pitch
Landing gear, a set of wheels, skids, or floats that support the plane
while it is on the surface. On seaplanes, the bottom of the fuselage
or floats (pontoons) support it while on the water. On some planes,
the landing gear retracts during the flight to reduce drag.
The wings of a fixed-wing aircraft are static planes extending either
side of the aircraft. When the aircraft travels forwards, air flows
over the wings which are shaped to create lift.
Kites and some light weight gliders and aeroplanes have flexible wing
surfaces which are stretched across a frame and made rigid by the lift
forces exerted by the airflow over them. Larger aircraft have rigid
wing surfaces which provide additional strength.
Whether flexible or rigid, most wings have a strong frame to give them
their shape and to transfer lift from the wing surface to the rest of
the aircraft. The main structural elements are one or more spars
running from root to tip, and many ribs running from the leading
(front) to the trailing (rear) edge.
Early aeroplane engines had little power and light weight was very
important. Also, early aerofoil sections were very thin, and could not
have strong frame installed within. So until the 1930s, most wings
were too light weight to have enough strength and external bracing
struts and wires were added. When the available engine power increased
during the 1920s and 1930s, wings could be made heavy and strong
enough that bracing was not needed any more. This type of unbraced
wing is called a cantilever wing.
Wing configuration and Wing
Morane-Saulnier L wire-braced parasol monoplane
The number and shape of the wings vary widely on different types. A
given wing plane may be full-span or divided by a central fuselage
into port (left) and starboard (right) wings. Occasionally, even more,
wings have been used, with the three-winged triplane achieving some
fame in WWI. The four-winged quadruplane and other Multiplane
(Aeronautics) designs have had little success.
A monoplane, which derives from the prefix, mono means one which means
it has a single wing plane, a biplane has two stacked one above the
other, a tandem wing has two placed one behind the other. When the
available engine power increased during the 1920s and 1930s and
bracing was no longer needed, the unbraced or cantilever monoplane
became the most common form of powered type.
The wing planform is the shape when seen from above. To be
aerodynamically efficient, a wing should be straight with a long span
from side to side but have a short chord (high aspect ratio). But to
be structurally efficient, and hence lightweight, a wing must have a
short span but still enough area to provide lift (low aspect ratio).
At transonic speeds, near the speed of sound, it helps to sweep the
wing backward or forwards to reduce drag from supersonic shock waves
as they begin to form. The swept wing is just a straight wing swept
backward or forwards.
Dassault Mirage G
Dassault Mirage G prototypes, one with wings swept
The delta wing is a triangle shape which may be used for a number of
reasons. As a flexible
Rogallo wing it allows a stable shape under
aerodynamic forces, and so is often used for kites and other
ultralight craft. As a supersonic wing, it combines high strength with
low drag and so is often used for fast jets.
A variable geometry wing can be changed in flight to a different
shape. The variable-sweep wing transforms between an efficient
straight configuration for takeoff and landing, to a low-drag swept
configuration for high-speed flight. Other forms of variable planform
have been flown, but none have gone beyond the research stage.
Main article: fuselage
A fuselage is a long, thin body, usually with tapered or rounded ends
to make its shape aerodynamically smooth. The fuselage may contain the
flight crew, passengers, cargo or payload, fuel and engines. The
pilots of manned aircraft operate them from a cockpit located at the
front or top of the fuselage and equipped with controls and usually
windows and instruments. A plane may have more than one fuselage, or
it may be fitted with booms with the tail located between the booms to
allow the extreme rear of the fuselage to be useful for a variety of
Wings vs. bodies
Main article: Flying wing
The US-produced B-2 Spirit, a strategic bomber using a flying wing
configuration which is capable of intercontinental missions
A flying wing is a tailless aircraft which has no definite fuselage,
with most of the crew, payload and equipment being housed inside the
main wing structure.:224
The flying wing configuration was studied extensively in the 1930s and
1940s, notably by
Jack Northrop and
Cheston L. Eshelman in the United
Alexander Lippisch and the
Horten brothers in Germany.
After the war, a number of experimental designs were based on the
flying wing concept. Some general interest continued until the early
1950s, but designs did not necessarily offer a great advantage in
range and presented a number of technical problems, leading to the
adoption of "conventional" solutions like the
Convair B-36 and the
B-52 Stratofortress. Due to the practical need for a deep wing, the
flying wing concept is most practical for designs in the
slow-to-medium speed range, and there has been continual interest in
using it as a tactical airlifter design.
Interest in flying wings was renewed in the 1980s due to their
potentially low radar reflection cross-sections. Stealth technology
relies on shapes which only reflect radar waves in certain directions,
thus making the aircraft hard to detect unless the radar receiver is
at a specific position relative to the aircraft - a position that
changes continuously as the aircraft moves. This approach eventually
led to the Northrop
B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. In this case the
aerodynamic advantages of the flying wing are not the primary needs.
However, modern computer-controlled fly-by-wire systems allowed for
many of the aerodynamic drawbacks of the flying wing to be minimised,
making for an efficient and stable long-range bomber.
Blended wing body
Main article: Blended wing
Computer-generated model of the Boeing X-48
Blended wing body aircraft have a flattened and airfoil shaped body,
which produces most of the lift to keep itself aloft, and distinct and
separate wing structures, though the wings are smoothly blended in
with the body.
Thus blended wing bodied aircraft incorporate design features from
both a futuristic fuselage and flying wing design. The purported
advantages of the blended wing body approach are efficient high-lift
wings and a wide airfoil-shaped body. This enables the entire craft to
contribute to lift generation with the result of potentially increased
Aircraft Company X-24 was built as part of a 1963 to 1975
experimental US military program.
Main article: Lifting body
A lifting body is a configuration in which the body itself produces
lift. In contrast to a flying wing, which is a wing with minimal or no
conventional fuselage, a lifting body can be thought of as a fuselage
with little or no conventional wing. Whereas a flying wing seeks to
maximize cruise efficiency at subsonic speeds by eliminating
non-lifting surfaces, lifting bodies generally minimize the drag and
structure of a wing for subsonic, supersonic, and hypersonic flight,
or, spacecraft re-entry. All of these flight regimes pose challenges
for proper flight stability.
Lifting bodies were a major area of research in the 1960s and 1970s as
a means to build a small and lightweight manned spacecraft. The US
built a number of famous lifting body rocket planes to test the
concept, as well as several rocket-launched re-entry vehicles that
were tested over the Pacific. Interest waned as the
US Air Force
US Air Force lost
interest in the manned mission, and major development ended during the
Space Shuttle design process when it became clear that the highly
shaped fuselages made it difficult to fit fuel tankage.
Empennage and foreplane
Empennage and Canard (aeronautics)
The classic aerofoil section wing is unstable in flight and difficult
to control. Flexible-wing types often rely on an anchor line or the
weight of a pilot hanging beneath to maintain the correct attitude.
Some free-flying types use an adapted aerofoil that is stable, or
other ingenious mechanisms including, most recently, electronic
But in order to achieve trim, stability and control, most fixed-wing
types have an empennage comprising a fin and rudder which act
horizontally and a tailplane and elevator which act vertically. This
is so common that it is known as the conventional layout. Sometimes
there may be two or more fins, spaced out along the tailplane.
Canards on the Saab Viggen
Some types have a horizontal "canard" foreplane ahead of the main
wing, instead of behind it.:86 This foreplane may
contribute to the trim, stability or control of the aircraft, or to
several of these.
Kites are controlled by wires running down to the ground. Typically
each wire acts as a tether to the part of the kite it is attached to.
Free-flying aircraft controls
Gliders and aeroplanes have more complex control systems, especially
if they are piloted.
Aircraft flight control system
Typical light aircraft (Cessna 150M) cockpit with control yokes
The main controls allow the pilot to direct the aircraft in the air.
Typically these are:
The yoke or joystick controls rotation of the plane about the pitch
and roll axes. A yoke resembles a steering wheel, and a control stick
is a joystick. The pilot can pitch the plane down by pushing on the
yoke or stick, and pitch the plane up by pulling on it. Rolling the
plane is accomplished by turning the yoke in the direction of the
desired roll, or by tilting the control stick in that direction.
Rudder pedals control rotation of the plane about the yaw axis. There
are two pedals that pivot so that when one is pressed forward the
other moves backward, and vice versa. The pilot presses on the right
rudder pedal to make the plane yaw to the right, and pushes on the
left pedal to make it yaw to the left. The rudder is used mainly to
balance the plane in turns, or to compensate for winds or other
effects that tend to turn the plane about the yaw axis.
On powered types, an engine stop control ("fuel cutoff", for example)
and, usually, a
Throttle or thrust lever and other controls, such as a
fuel-mixture control (to compensate for air density changes with
Other common controls include:
Flap levers, which are used to control the deflection position of
flaps on the wings.
Spoiler levers, which are used to control the position of spoilers on
the wings, and to arm their automatic deployment in planes designed to
deploy them upon landing. The spoilers reduce lift for landing.
Trim controls, which usually take the form of knobs or wheels and are
used to adjust pitch, roll, or yaw trim. These are often connected to
small airfoils on the trail edge of the control surfaces called 'trim
tabs'. Trim is used to reduce the amount of pressure on the control
forces needed to maintain a steady course.
On wheeled types, Brakes are used to slow and stop the plane on the
ground, and sometimes for turns on the ground.
A craft may have two pilots' seats with dual controls, allowing two
pilots to take turns. This is often used for training or for longer
The control system may allow full or partial automation of flight,
such as an autopilot, a wing leveler, or a flight management system.
An unmanned aircraft has no pilot but is controlled remotely or via
means such as gyroscopes or other forms of autonomous control.
Six basic flight instruments
On manned types, instruments provide information to the pilots,
including flight, engines, navigation, communications and other
aircraft systems that may be installed.
The six basic instruments (sometimes referred to as the six pack)
An airspeed indicator, which indicates the speed at which the plane is
moving through the surrounding air.
An altimeter, which indicates the altitude or height of the plane
above mean sea level.
A heading indicator, (sometimes referred to as a "directional gyro
(DG)"), which indicates the magnetic compass heading that the plane's
fuselage is pointing towards. The actual direction the plane is flying
towards is affected by the wind conditions.
An attitude indicator, sometimes called an artificial horizon, which
indicates the exact orientation of the plane about its pitch and roll
A vertical speed indicator, which shows the rate at which the plane is
climbing or descending.
A turn coordinator, or turn and bank indicator which helps the pilot
maintain the plane in a coordinated attitude while turning.
Other instruments might include:
A two-way radio to enable communications with other planes and also,
air traffic control. Planes built before
World War II
World War II may not have
been equipped with a radio but they are nearly essential now in case
A horizontal situation indicator, shows the position and movement of
the plane as seen from above with respect to the ground, including
course/heading and other information.
Instruments showing the status of each engine in the plane (operating
speed, thrust, temperature, RPM, and other variables).
Combined display systems such as primary flight displays or navigation
Information displays such as onboard weather radar displays.
A radio direction finder which indicates the direction to one or more
radio beacons and which can be used to determine the plane's position.
A satellite navigation system to provide an accurate position.
Aircraft flight mechanics
Aviation and the environment
List of altitude records reached by different aircraft types
In 1903, when the
Wright brothers used the word "aeroplane," (This is
British English term it can also mean airplane in American
English.) meant wing, not the whole aircraft. See text of their
patent. Patent 821,393 – Wright brothers' patent for "Flying
^ Drachen Foundation Journal Fall 2002, page 18. Two lines of
evidence: analysis of leaf kiting and some cave drawings Archived 23
July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b Needham, Volume 4, Part 1, 127.
^ a b Anon. "
Kite History: A Simple History of Kiting". G-Kites.
Retrieved 20 June 2010.
^ Aulus Gellius, "Attic Nights", Book X, 12.9 at LacusCurtius
Archytas of Tarentum, Technology Museum of Thessaloniki, Macedonia,
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^ White, Lynn. "Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A
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Aviation History". Retrieved 26 July 2009. In 1799 he set forth for
the first time in history the concept of the modern aeroplane. Cayley
had identified the drag vector (parallel to the flow) and the lift
vector (perpendicular to the flow).
Sir George Cayley
Sir George Cayley (British Inventor and Scientist)". Britannica.
Retrieved 26 July 2009. English pioneer of aerial navigation and
aeronautical engineering and designer of the first successful glider
to carry a human being aloft. Cayley established the modern
configuration of an aeroplane as a fixed-wing flying machine with
separate systems for lift, propulsion, and control as early as
^ "Cayley, Sir George: Encyclopædia Britannica 2007." Encyclopædia
Britannica Online, 25 August 2007.
^ Harwood, Craig; Fogel, Gary (2012). Quest for Flight: John J.
Montgomery and the Dawn of
Aviation in the West. Norman, Oklahoma:
University of Oklahoma Press. ASIN 0806142642.
ISBN 978-0806142647. CS1 maint: ASIN uses ISBN (link)
^ Inglis, Amirah. "Hargrave, Lawrence (1850–1915)". Australian
Dictionary of Biography. 9. Melbourne University Press. Retrieved 28
^ Beril, Becker (1967). Dreams and Realities of the Conquest of the
Skies. New York: Atheneum. pp. 124–125
^ FAI News: 100 Years Ago, the Dream of Icarus Became Reality Archived
13 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine. posted 17 December 2003. (The
1903 flights are not listed in the official FAI flight records,
however, because the organization and its predecessors did not yet
exist.) Retrieved 5 January 2007.
^ Jones, Ernest. "Santos Dumont in France 1906–1916: The Very
Earliest Early Birds." earlyaviators.com, 25 December 2006. Retrieved
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^ Les vols du 14bis relatés au fil des éditions du journal
l'illustration de 1906. The wording is: "cette prouesse est le premier
vol au monde homologué par l'
Aéro-Club de France
Aéro-Club de France et la toute jeune
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)." (This achievement is
the first flight in the world to be recognized by the France Air Club
and by the new International Aeronautical Federation (FAI).)
^ Crouch, Tom (1982). Bleriot XI, The Story of a Classic Aircraft.
Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 21 and 22.
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NASA Armstrong Fact Sheet: First Generation X-1, February 28, 2014
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^ Michael Halloran and Sean O'Meara,
Wing in Ground Effect Craft
Review, DSTO, Australia "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the
original (PDF) on 22 May 2013. Retrieved 2012-08-24. , p51. Notes
an agreement between ICAO and IMO that WIGs come under the
jurisdiction of the International Maritime Organisation although there
an exception for craft with a sustained use out of ground effect (OGE)
to be considered as aircraft.
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United States, pages 14-22. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988.
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Look up aeroplane, aircraft, or airplane in Wiktionary, the free
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Aircraft by type of wing.
How Airplanes Work – Howstuffworks.com
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's How Things Fly website
"Hops and Flights - a Roll Call of Early Powered Take-offs" a 1959
Types of aircraft by methods of thrust and lift
Lift: Lighter than air gas
Lift: Fixed wing
Lift: Unpowered rotor
Lift: Powered rotor
Unpowered free flight
Helicopter, etc. in autorotation
(None – see note 2)
Tethered (static or towed)
(None – see note 2)
Airplane, ornithopter, etc.
Note 1: A tiltwing or tiltrotor aircraft functions as an aeroplane
during normal (horizontal) flight and as a helicopter during low-speed
Note 2: For full-size aircraft with powered rotors the rotor is
normally tilted to achieve thrust (e.g. in a helicopter). Some toys
(e.g. balloon helicopter) do have a powered rotor with no means to
tilt the rotor to produce horizontal thrust.
Note 3: Ground effect vehicles and hovercraft are not included in the
table, nor are experimental aircraft with novel thrust / lift
solutions (e.g. coleopter, Flying Bedstead, Avrocar and flettner
airplane) or balloon-wing hybrids (e.g. kytoon and hybr