Wings (Part One)

in Aircraft Structures

Wing Configurations

Wings are airfoils that, when moved rapidly through the air, create lift. They are built in many shapes and sizes. Wing design can vary to provide certain desirable flight characteristics. Control at various operating speeds, the amount of lift generated, balance, and stability all change as the shape of the wing is altered. Both the leading edge and the trailing edge of the wing may be straight or curved, or one edge may be straight and the other curved. One or both edges may be tapered so that the wing is narrower at the tip than at the root where it joins the fuselage. The wing tip may be square, rounded, or even pointed. Figure 1-19 shows a number of typical wing leading and trailing edge shapes.


Figure 1-19. Various wing design shapes yield different performance.

Figure 1-19. Various wing design shapes yield different performance. [click to enlarge]

The wings of an aircraft can be attached to the fuselage at the top, mid-fuselage, or at the bottom. They may extend perpendicular to the horizontal plain of the fuselage or can angle up or down slightly. This angle is known as the wing dihedral. The dihedral angle affects the lateral stability of the aircraft. Figure 1-20 shows some common wing attach points and dihedral angle.

Figure 1-20. Wing attach points and wing dihedrals.

Figure 1-20. Wing attach points and wing dihedrals.

Wing Structure

The wings of an aircraft are designed to lift it into the air. Their particular design for any given aircraft depends on a number of factors, such as size, weight, use of the aircraft, desired speed in flight and at landing, and desired rate of climb. The wings of aircraft are designated left and right, corresponding to the left and right sides of the operator when seated in the cockpit. [Figure 1-21]

Figure 1-21. “Left” and “right” on an aircraft are oriented to the perspective of a pilot sitting in the cockpit.

Figure 1-21. “Left” and “right” on an aircraft are oriented to the perspective of a pilot sitting in the cockpit. [click image to enlarge]

Often wings are of full cantilever design. This means they are built so that no external bracing is needed. They are supported internally by structural members assisted by the skin of the aircraft. Other aircraft wings use external struts or wires to assist in supporting the wing and carrying the aerodynamic and landing loads. Wing support cables and struts are generally made from steel. Many struts and their attach fittings have fairings to reduce drag. Short, nearly vertical supports called jury struts are found on struts that attach to the wings a great distance from the fuselage. This serves to subdue strut movement and oscillation caused by the air flowing around the strut in flight. Figure 1-22 shows samples of wings using external bracing, also known as semicantilever wings. Cantilever wings built with no external bracing are also shown.

Figure 1-22. Externally braced wings, also called semicantilever wings, have wires or struts to support the wing. Full cantilever wings have no external bracing and are supported internally.

Figure 1-22. Externally braced wings, also called semicantilever wings, have wires or struts to support the wing. Full cantilever wings have no external bracing and are supported internally. [click image to enlarge]

Aluminum is the most common material from which to construct wings, but they can be wood covered with fabric, and occasionally a magnesium alloy has been used. Moreover, modern aircraft are tending toward lighter and stronger materials throughout the airframe and in wing construction. Wings made entirely of carbon fiber or other composite materials exist, as well as wings made of a combination of materials for maximum strength to weight performance.

The internal structures of most wings are made up of spars and stringers running spanwise and ribs and formers or bulkheads running chordwise (leading edge to trailing edge). The spars are the principle structural members of a wing. They support all distributed loads, as well as concentrated weights such as the fuselage, landing gear, and engines. The skin, which is attached to the wing structure, carries part of the loads imposed during flight. It also transfers the stresses to the wing ribs. The ribs, in turn, transfer the loads to the wing spars. [Figure 1-23]

Figure 1-23. Wing structure nomenclature.

Figure 1-23. Wing structure nomenclature. [click image to enlarge]

In general, wing construction is based on one of three fundamental designs:

1. Monospar
2. Multispar
3. Box beam

Modification of these basic designs may be adopted by various manufacturers.

The monospar wing incorporates only one main spanwise or longitudinal member in its construction. Ribs or bulkheads supply the necessary contour or shape to the airfoil. Although the strict monospar wing is not common, this type of design modified by the addition of false spars or light shear webs along the trailing edge for support of control surfaces is sometimes used.

The multispar wing incorporates more than one main longitudinal member in its construction. To give the wing contour, ribs or bulkheads are often included.

The box beam type of wing construction uses two main longitudinal members with connecting bulkheads to furnish additional strength and to give contour to the wing. [Figure 1-24] A corrugated sheet may be placed between the bulkheads and the smooth outer skin so that the wing can better carry tension and compression loads. In some cases, heavy longitudinal stiffeners are substituted for the corrugated sheets. A combination of corrugated sheets on the upper surface of the wing and stiffeners on the lower surface is sometimes used. Air transport category aircraft often utilize box beam wing construction.

Figure 1-24. Box beam construction.

Figure 1-24. Box beam construction. [click image to enlarge]

Wing Spars

Spars are the principal structural members of the wing. They correspond to the longerons of the fuselage. They run parallel to the lateral axis of the aircraft, from the fuselage toward the tip of the wing, and are usually attached to the fuselage by wing fittings, plain beams, or a truss.

Spars may be made of metal, wood, or composite materials depending on the design criteria of a specific aircraft. Wooden spars are usually made from spruce. They can be generally classified into four different types by their crosssectional configuration. As shown in Figure 1-25, they may be (A) solid, (B) box shaped, (C) partly hollow, or (D) in the form of an I-beam. Lamination of solid wood spars is often used to increase strength. Laminated wood can also be found in box shaped spars. The spar in Figure 1-25E has had material removed to reduce weight but retains the strength of a rectangular spar. As can be seen, most wing spars are basically rectangular in shape with the long dimension of the cross-section oriented up and down in the wing.

Figure 1-25. Typical wooden wing spar cross-sections.

Figure 1-25. Typical wooden wing spar cross-sections. [click to enlarge]

Currently, most manufactured aircraft have wing spars made of solid extruded aluminum or aluminum extrusions riveted together to form the spar. The increased use of composites and the combining of materials should make airmen vigilant for wings spars made from a variety of materials. Figure 1-26 shows examples of metal wing spar cross-sections.

Figure 1-26. Examples of metal wing spar shapes.

Figure 1-26. Examples of metal wing spar shapes. [click image to enlarge]

In an I–beam spar, the top and bottom of the I–beam are called the caps and the vertical section is called the web. The entire spar can be extruded from one piece of metal but often it is built up from multiple extrusions or formed angles. The web forms the principal depth portion of the spar and the cap strips (extrusions, formed angles, or milled sections) are attached to it. Together, these members carry the loads caused by wing bending, with the caps providing a foundation for attaching the skin. Although the spar shapes in Figure 1-26 are typical, actual wing spar configurations assume many forms. For example, the web of a spar may be a plate or a truss as shown in Figure 1-27. It could be built up from light weight materials with vertical stiffeners employed for strength. [Figure 1-28]
Figure 1-27. A truss wing spar.

Figure 1-27. A truss wing spar.

Figure 1-28. A plate web wing spar with vertical stiffeners.

Figure 1-28. A plate web wing spar with vertical stiffeners.

It could also have no stiffeners but might contain flanged holes for reducing weight but maintaining strength. Some metal and composite wing spars retain the I-beam concept but use a sine wave web. [Figure 1-29]

Figure 1-29. A sine wave wing spar can be made from aluminum or composite materials.

Figure 1-29. A sine wave wing spar can be made from aluminum or composite materials.

Additionally, fail-safe spar web design exists. Fail-safe means that should one member of a complex structure fail, some other part of the structure assumes the load of the failed member and permits continued operation. A spar with failsafe construction is shown in Figure 1-30. This spar is made in two sections. The top section consists of a cap riveted to the upper web plate. The lower section is a single extrusion consisting of the lower cap and web plate. These two sections are spliced together to form the spar. If either section of this type of spar breaks, the other section can still carry the load. This is the fail-safe feature.

Figure 1-30. A fail-safe spar with a riveted spar web.

Figure 1-30. A fail-safe spar with a riveted spar web.

As a rule, a wing has two spars. One spar is usually located near the front of the wing, and the other about two-thirds of the distance toward the wing’s trailing edge. Regardless of type, the spar is the most important part of the wing. When other structural members of the wing are placed under load, most of the resulting stress is passed on to the wing spar.

False spars are commonly used in wing design. They are longitudinal members like spars but do not extend the entire spanwise length of the wing. Often, they are used as hinge attach points for control surfaces, such as an aileron spar.