A Jumbo jet taking off or landing. High resolution 3D render.
image source: www.iitbmonash.org

All of us have stared into the sky with awe at some point, watching and admiring the man-made wonder that airplanes are. But the thing that is most astonishing of all, is that all of these machine birds are different! Thinking how?

Lets look into their history first:

In 1485, Leonardo da Vinci sketched the ornithopter, a flying machine with flapping wings powered by the muscles of man

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image source : Britannica.com

In the eighteenth century, Sir George Cayley thought of the first fixed wing aircraft with a power system for propulsion.

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image source: ypsyork.org

Otto Lilienth in the nineteenth century, came up with the first glider that could fly a man. After more than 2500 flights, due to a loss of control during the flight, he lost his life.

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image sourse : didyk.info

And finally in 1903, the Wright brothers invented and flew the first fixed wing aircraft with a human aboard

1910_Model B_flying
image source : www.wrightbrothers.org

After all these initial endeavours, we now have aircrafts that are much more advanced in design and serve varied purposes.Their wing designs vary accordingly, but the question is how? Why do commercial aircrafts and fighter aircrafts have different wing structure?

To know that lets look into all of the designs:

sky brary
image source: www.skybrary.com

1. Straight Wing

image source:aircraft.winkia.org

The straight wing is one of the oldest designs which is mostly used in civilian aircraft as it produces the most lift. This type of wing causes problem when the aircraft is moving at a speed faster than sound (supersonic speed), as the fast moving air on broad wings creates a lot of drag. However, for subsonic flights these wings are ideal.

2. Elliptical Wing

image source: spitfiresite.com

The elliptical wing was first used in the 1920’s. This type of wing minimizes induced drag and is more efficient than the straight wing. However, their use is limited due to its cost inefficiency and the difficulty it faces in maintaining a stable flight.

3. Tapered Wing

image source: www.mustangaero.com

The tapered wing is a modified design of elliptical wing which comes closer to the ideal distribution of lift and reduces drag to a larger extent. This type of wing has a faster rate of climb than a horizontal wing.

4.Swept Back Wing

image source:www.aerospace-technology.com

The swept back wing is mostly used in commercial flights. They create less drag and delay the formation of shock waves on the airplane at high speed. The degree of sweep depends on the purpose of aircrafts. In commercial flights, moderate sweep allows them to fly at a high speed while maintaning the stability at low speeds.

5. Delta Wing

image source: www.wikipedia.org

The delta wing has a much higher degree of sweep (angle with horizontal) than a commercial plane’s wing, which allows it to fly in supersonic speeds. The commercial flights need a gradual lift where as fighter planes require a great amount of lift in very small fraction of time hence moderately swept wings are used in civil flights whereas delta wings are used in fighter aircrafts.


Shradha Ghosh
Artist, Writer, Evangelist


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