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What is a Fixed Wing Airplane?

Michael Pollick
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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Generally speaking, if an aircraft requires a landing strip it is considered to be a fixed wing airplane. The wings are permanently attached to the fuselage of the plane and do not provide power for thrust. Fixed wing aircraft can range in size from the smallest experimental stunt plane to the largest commercial jet or military bomber. The one thing all of these planes have in common is a wing and rudder assembly combined with a separate power source such as a jet engine or propeller. Aircraft such as helicopters and hovercraft are not considered fixed wing, because they use the power of rotors to achieve both thrust and lift.

To fully understand fixed wing aircraft, it may help to travel back to the earliest days of powered aviation. The Wright brothers created the first plane which utilized the fixed wing design. A standard plane wing has a curved upper surface and a flat lower surface. When the propeller or jet engine pushes the entire airplane forward, the air strikes the front edge of the wing with substantial pressure. The wing is fixed in place very securely, so the air current can only go in two directions, above or below. As the air flows over the curved top of the wing, it moves faster than the air flowing under the bottom of the wing. The result is a phenomenon called lift. The plane can be angled to take advantage of this lift, making powered flight possible.

The main difficulty with fixed wing technology lies with the engineering of the wings. In order to provide maximum lift for larger payloads, the wingspan of a plane must be increased exponentially. Supporting the sheer weight and length of these larger wings means using advanced welding techniques and internal support structures. Fixed wing aircraft also suffer from a lack of mobility, unless they are configured for stunt flying. This is one reason the government assigned fixed wing aircraft responsibility to the Air Force and helicopters to the Army. Fighter jets and bombers use fixed wing technology to the fullest, but helicopters provide greater mobility.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WikiMotors, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon996942 — On Oct 27, 2016

What is the name of the aircraft with the twin tail fins pictured in this article?

By anon263476 — On Apr 24, 2012

@anon140488: The curved shape of the wing is not the only factor contributing to lift. A major factor is the angle of attack- the angle the flat surface makes with the oncoming wind direction. Stick your hand out of the car the next time you are speeding on a highway and vary the angle.

By anon140488 — On Jan 07, 2011

How is it possible for an airplane with a flat bottom wing to fly upside down? That shoots down the explanation that the air pressure over the curved surface is lower than the flat side because it has to travel farther.

By Georgesplane — On Jun 27, 2010

@ Alchemy- How designers incorporate the wings into the body as well as wing geometry are also critical to the design of airplanes.

Wing geometry, and whether they are dihedral or anhedral, relate to the shape of the wings when viewed from the top and front of the plane. Planes can have wing patterns that are swept forward or backward, delta fixed, shaped like a crescent, or located near the front or back of the fuselage. Dihedral wings slope upward when viewed from the front and vice versa for anhedral wind designs.

Some planes also have the wings incorporated right into the body of the plane. The f-117 stealth fighter, the sr71 Blackbird, and the B-2 Bomber were designed as blended body or flying wing designs.

By Alchemy — On Jun 27, 2010

There are so many different wing variations on a fixed wing aircraft. Designers classify fixed wing aircraft by wing number, wing position, and the type of wing support.

Number and position of the wings can range from one to three or more. Designers also either stagger or stack wings on multiple wing planes. The types of wing supports are closely related to the number and position of the wings. Many smaller single wing planes and multiple wing planes have support cables and struts that help stabilize the wings against the fuselage.

By Babalaas — On Jun 27, 2010

A few fixed wing aircraft can take off and land vertically. One used by the military is a hybrid fixed wing aircraft. The V-22 Osprey built by Bell and Boeing can take off and land vertically. Situated at the end of the short wings are rotors that can tilt to become propellers once the craft is airborne. The craft can land by gliding in case of a dual prop failure, and is capable of flying with only one operational engine. A drive shaft links both propellers together to prevent catastrophic failure in these types of situations.

The other type of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fixed wing craft are direct jet thrust aircraft. Two direct jet thrust aircraft that I know of are the First and second generation Harrier Jump Jets and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Boeing and BAE developed the second-generation Harrier as a joint light tactical support fighter for use by NATO.

The F-35 is a short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft, but is capable of vertical take-off in certain situations. The F-35 is the only supersonic fighter capable of STOVL/VTOL.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick

As a frequent contributor to WikiMotors, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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