Wings (Part Two)

in Aircraft Structures

Wing Ribs

Ribs are the structural crosspieces that combine with spars and stringers to make up the framework of the wing. They usually extend from the wing leading edge to the rear spar or to the trailing edge of the wing. The ribs give the wing its cambered shape and transmit the load from the skin and stringers to the spars. Similar ribs are also used in ailerons, elevators, rudders, and stabilizers.


Wing ribs are usually manufactured from either wood or metal. Aircraft with wood wing spars may have wood or metal ribs while most aircraft with metal spars have metal ribs. Wood ribs are usually manufactured from spruce. The three most common types of wooden ribs are the plywood web, the lightened plywood web, and the truss types. Of these three, the truss type is the most efficient because it is strong and lightweight, but it is also the most complex to construct.

Figure 1-31. Examples of wing ribs constructed of wood.

Figure 1-31. Examples of wing ribs constructed of wood.

Figure 1-31 shows wood truss web ribs and a lightened plywood web rib. Wood ribs have a rib cap or cap strip fastened around the entire perimeter of the rib. It is usually made of the same material as the rib itself. The rib cap stiffens and strengthens the rib and provides an attaching surface for the wing covering. In Figure 1-31A, the cross-section of a wing rib with a truss-type web is illustrated. The dark rectangular sections are the front and rear wing spars. Note that to reinforce the truss, gussets are used. In Figure 1-31B, a truss web rib is shown with a continuous gusset. It provides greater support throughout the entire rib with very little additional weight. A continuous gusset stiffens the cap strip in the plane of the rib. This aids in preventing buckling and helps to obtain better rib/skin joints where nail-gluing is used. Such a rib can resist the driving force of nails better than the other types.

Continuous gussets are also more easily handled than the many small separate gussets otherwise required. Figure 1-31C shows a rib with a lighten plywood web. It also contains gussets to support the web/cap strip interface. The cap strip is usually laminated to the web, especially at the leading edge.

A wing rib may also be referred to as a plain rib or a main rib. Wing ribs with specialized locations or functions are given names that reflect their uniqueness. For example, ribs that are located entirely forward of the front spar that are used to shape and strengthen the wing leading edge are called nose ribs or false ribs. False ribs are ribs that do not span the entire wing chord, which is the distance from the leading edge to the trailing edge of the wing. Wing butt ribs may be found at the inboard edge of the wing where the wing attaches to the fuselage. Depending on its location and method of attachment, a butt rib may also be called a bulkhead rib or a compression rib if it is designed to receive compression loads that tend to force the wing spars together.

Figure 1-32. Basic wood wing structure and components.

Figure 1-32. Basic wood wing structure and components. [click image to enlarge]

Since the ribs are laterally weak, they are strengthened in some wings by tapes that are woven above and below rib sections to prevent sidewise bending of the ribs. Drag and anti-drag wires may also be found in a wing. In Figure 1-32, they are shown crisscrossed between the spars to form a truss to resist forces acting on the wing in the direction of the wing chord. These tension wires are also referred to as tie rods. The wire designed to resist the backward forces is called a drag wire; the anti-drag wire resists the forward forces in the chord direction. Figure 1-32 illustrates the structural components of a basic wood wing.

Figure 1-33. Wing root fairings smooth airflow and hide wing attach fittings.

Figure 1-33. Wing root fairings smooth airflow and hide wing attach fittings.

At the inboard end of the wing spars is some form of wing attach fitting as illustrated in Figure 1-32. These provide a strong and secure method for attaching the wing to the fuselage. The interface between the wing and fuselage is often covered with a fairing to achieve smooth airflow in this area. The fairing(s) can be removed for access to the wing attach fittings. [Figure 1-33]

Figure 1-34. A removable metal wing tip.

Figure 1-34. A removable metal wing tip. [click image to enlarge]

The wing tip is often a removable unit, bolted to the outboard end of the wing panel. One reason for this is the vulnerability of the wing tips to damage, especially during ground handling and taxiing. Figure 1-34 shows a removable wing tip for a large aircraft wing. Others are different. The wing tip assembly is of aluminum alloy construction. The wing tip cap is secured to the tip with countersunk screws and is secured to the interspar structure at four points with ¼-inch diameter bolts. To prevent ice from forming on the leading edge of the wings of large aircraft, hot air from an engine is often channeled through the leading edge from wing root to wing tip. A louver on the top surface of the wingtip allows this warm air to be exhausted overboard. Wing position lights are located at the center of the tip and are not directly visible from the cockpit. As an indication that the wing tip light is operating, some wing tips are equipped with a Lucite rod to transmit the light to the leading edge.