Throughout history, the wings for an aircraft have adopted several shapes and standards. Today, commercial vessels and other aircraft, adopt a standard shape with the wings swept back, but some aircraft can still be seen with rectangular, trapezoidal, and other wing shapes. If you’re interested in entering the aviation industry or are already active in it, then it might interest you to know about the many different types of wings shapes.
Aerodynamically, the elliptical wing is the most efficient. In theory, elliptical wings induce less drag according to a principle that was identified by British theorist Frederick Lanchester, but experts say it works more in theory than in real time. Meanwhile, the manufacturability of the aircraft wing is far more inferior than other types. The elliptical wing was originally manufactured to house ammunition, landing gear and guns inside the air. Since it was expected to hold several items, the plane needed the thinnest possible wing. The principle identified by Lanchester is that induced drag is at a minimum when the spanwise distribution of lift is elliptical, and there is an equation to prove it. Because the elliptical wing has the lowest supposed induced drag, WWII planes like the Supermarine Spitfire reigned the skies during the Great Battle of Britain.
Tapered wings were first designed by modifying the previous rectangular wing model. The chord of the wing is varied across the span for approximate elliptical lift distribution. Though certainly not as efficient as the standard elliptical wing, it does offer the compromise between manufacturability and efficiency. One example of a tapered wing is the P-51 Mustang, which was used by the USAAF to do battle against the Luftwaffe.
True to its name, the wings have a rectangular “Hershey bar” shape. One of the easiest wings to manufacture, though not very aerodynamically efficient, these wings are non-tapered and extend straight out from the aircraft’s fuselage at right angles. One good example of this aircraft is the Piper PA 38.
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