Have you ever noticed that some planes have wings positioned on the bottom and others on the top? What about those planes that have highly angled or oddly-shaped wings?
What is that all about?
What are some of the most common plane wing configurations?
And so, without further ado, here are some of the most common airplane wing configuration designs. Here we will limit our discussion to the wing-to-fuselage connection and angle configurations rather than wing shapes or lateral positioning.
Some are common, and others are more unconventional airplane wing designs. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.
Main mounting positions
The following are the main types of wing-to-fuselage mounting locations.
1. The low wing configuration is the one you are probably most familiar withThe American Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk has a low wing configuration. Source: Jez/Flickr
As the name suggests, a low wing configuration is one where the wings are mounted below the midline of the aircraft. By placing the wings in this configuration, the pilot can benefit from improved visibility, and it also frees up space in the fuselage from the wing spar carry-through needed for higher mountings.
Low wings tend to make the aircraft more maneuverable. They also increase the phenomenon of the ground effect that tends to make a plane float farther before landing. It also permits such aircraft shorter takeoffs, too.
2. Mid wing aircraft are very well balanced in flightThe magnificent English Electric Lightning famously had a mid-wing configuration. Source: Mike Freer/Wikimedia Commons
A mid wing configuration places the wings exactly at the midline of the airplane, at half of the height of the fuselage. Such configuration requires a carry-through spar structure that can reduce the useful fuselage volume near its center of gravity.
This is often where space is often in most demand.
However, this is more than compensated for by the fact that this configuration is very well balanced. This design means that mid-wing aircraft have a large control surface area.
For reference, control surfaces are portions of an airplane that are involved in steering. Mid wing airplanes are very maneuverable, but not as stable as high wing airplanes.
Mid wings are most common on aerobatic and some combat aircraft.
3. Larger cargo planes usually have a high wing configurationThe Lockheed C-130 Hercules has a high wing configuration. Source: wehardy/Flickr
High wing aircraft have their wings mounted to the upper surface of their fuselage, or on top of it. For multi-engined aircraft, high wings enable the fuselage to be closer to the ground, which is ideal for large cargo planes and military transports.
This is especially the case for rear loading cargo planes. Typically, high wing aircraft do not require wing dihedrals for stability.
High wing aircraft, including shoulder wings (which can also be defined as a separate form), have a much-reduced ground effect when compared to mid or low wings. For smaller aircraft, high wings can reduce pilot visibility upwards.
High wing airplanes tend to be very stable at slower speeds, meaning they can right themselves quickly if they encounter turbulence while traveling slowly.
Head-on wing designs
Wings also vary in the way they are angled, or shaped when viewed from the front. Here are some of the most common types.
4. Dihedral wings are some of the most commonThe Supermarine Spitfire had dihedral wings (that were also low mounted) of around 6 degrees. Source: Paul Beattie/Flickr
Dihedral wings are those where the tips of the wings and higher than their root attachment point to the fuselage. This configuration gives the wings a kind of shallow "V" shape when viewed from the front or back.
This wing type provides excellent lateral stability for the aircraft and is one of the most common. A dihedral configuration increases lateral stability in a bank by causing the lower wing to fly at a higher angle of attack than the higher wing.
They also enable the aircraft to more easily return to wings-level flight after maneuvering when compared to straight-winged aircraft, for example.
Older biplanes, like the Sopwith Camel, also made use of a mixture of straight-wing (top) and dihedral wings (bottom).
5. Anhedral wings are an interesting wing designThe Antonov AN-225 has anhedral wings. Source: Lukas "The Mustang"/Flickr
Anhedral wings are wings whose configuration is the mirror image of dihedral wings. The wingtips, therefore, are lower than the wing route or attachment point.
Used in the first Wright Brothers' Flyer, these types of wings help reduce stability where some other design features of the aircraft may provide too much lateral stability.
Like dihedral wings, some older biplanes also had a mixture of anhedral and straight wing configurations. Modern famous examples of aircraft with this kind of wing include the mightly Antonov AN-225.
6. Polyhedral wings can look very strangeThe mighty F-4 Phantom is one of the most famous polyhedral winged aircraft. Source: USAF/Wikimedia Commons
Polyhedral wings are wings that combine elements of both anhedral and dihedral wings. Common examples include gull wings, inverted gull wings, and wings with dihedral or anhedral tips.
The term is commonly used to refer to wings having at least 2 dihedral angles with a sharp discontinuity between both. These kinds of wings are used to improve roll stability without a significant change to the overall wing design.
On modern jetliners, a common feature is a curved wingtip. Technically falling under the category of polyhedral wings, this design was incorporated to reduce the tendency for the formation of wake vortices.
These vortices can seriously reduce an aircraft's fuel efficiency.
7. Inverted gull wings are very strikingThe F4U Corsair. Source: Airwolfhound/Flickr
The inverted gull wing design is one of the most striking and interesting wing designs. In an inverted gull wing configuration, the inboard wing section (i.e. adjoining the fuselage) is set at an anhedral angle where the outer end is lower than the wing root; while the outboard section is set at a dihedral angle, with the wingtip higher than the inner end. When seen from the front, this gives an elongated 'W'-shape.
This design is typically used to reduce the over length of the wing-mounted undercarriage legs while also raising the main fuselage. The longer the undercarriage length, the weaker and heavier it is.
Two notable aircraft with this design are the German Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber and the F4U Corsair. In the case of the latter, the wing design was chosen due to the very large engine and propeller the aircraft was equipped with.
The Stuka had fixed undercarriage so the use of inverted gull wings reduced their length and associated drag.
The Corsair was also designed to have folding wings for easier storage on aircraft carriers and its inverted gull wing design eliminated the need for wing fillets. As rough landings were expected for the Corsair, the shorter undercarriage was also deemed necessary.
8. The gull wing is aptly namedBeriev Be-12 seaplane with gull wings. Source: Yevgeny Pashnin/Wikimedia Commons
Gull wing aircraft have a sharp dihedral at the root and little or none in the main section. This wing design was sometimes used to improve forward visibility or as the upper wing on biplanes.
Also known as Pulaski wings, some of the first examples can be found on gliders from the 1920s. They are more commonly found in seaplanes from the 1930s onwards.
Much like the inverted gull wing, gull wings were incorporated into the design to ensure enough ground clearance for large propellers -- especially when landing on water.
9. The channel wing is a very unconventional wing designThe experimental Antonov Izdeliye 181 had channel wings. Source: Geromat/Wikimedia Commons
Another interesting wing design is the so-called channel wing. Designed by William Ray Cluster in the 1920s, the design consists of a half-tube with an engine placed in the middle, driving a propeller
Propellers can either be forward or rear-facing, and the wing form is designed to generate a channel of low-pressure air through the tube, or channel, to help generate lift.
The wing design is not very common and is mainly seen in prototype aircraft. However, some research is being conducted for the wings' potential in small UAVs.
And that's all folks.
Next time you find yourself at an airfield, airshow, or airport, why not see which different wing-mounted configurations you can spot?