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Can an airplane fly without wings?

  1. Nov 5, 2015 #1

    David Lewis

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    Yes it can, and surprisingly well.
    Conventional wings tend to be typically:
    1. Large (lots of area)
    2. Thin (thickness/chord < 15%)
    3. High aspect ratio (span/chord > 6)

    A common example of a wingless airplane would be a lifting body.

    Benefits of wingless airplanes:
    1. Compact (encloses volume efficiently)
    2. Low drag at high speeds
    3. Light (structurally efficient)

    Disadvantages of wingless airplanes:
    1. Low lift-to-drag ratio
    2. Low maximum lift coefficient

    The disadvantages of wingless airplanes vastly outweigh the benefits in most applications, within the present state of the art.

    It's sometimes claimed that wingless airplanes must fly at high speed or need lots of thrust.
    Well, there are wingless gliders that do just fine, and a low lift coefficient (by itself) does not mean an airplane must fly fast. Speed is also a function of wing loading. (Here we define "wing loading" as weight divided by lifting surface area.)

    Airships can generate lift by flying at a small angle of attack. On a large rigid airship, the lift can amount to thousands of pounds. This is convenient when the captain wants to avoid valving gas or releasing ballast. However, it increases fuel consumption.

    Vectoring thrust to partially replace or augment wing lift is inefficient. If an airplane's L/D is 10, for example, then for every newton of thrust, you will get 10 newtons of lift. So clearly better to let the wings do the lifting and the propulsion system concentrate on pulling.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2015 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Technically a lifting body is an aircraft that is all wing rather than one without wings.
    Aircraft without wings would be lighter-that-air, rockets, vectored thrust jets etc. Helecopters, if you don't count the rotors as wings.

    Did you have a question?
    I don't think anyone doubts that a functioning aircraft can be made without wings. It's not clear that this would, reasonably, be called an "airplane" since iirc the "plane" part refers to wings, but that's semantics.
  4. Nov 6, 2015 #3

    David Lewis

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    Simon, good points. According to what I've read, aeroplane originally referred to just the wing itself. Later the term applied to the whole airplane. The plane part I've seen various etymological derivations: planus (Latin = flat, level), planos/planetos (Greek = wandering/wanderer), and planer (French = to soar) -- double or triple meanings may be involved.

    I've described somewhat narrowly what I mean by wing for purposes of this thread. A helicopter rotor would be considered a wing, and a powered lifting body would fit the definition of an airplane.
  5. Nov 6, 2015 #4

    Simon Bridge

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    ... and it would be an airplane that is 100% wing... though you are free to make any definitiobs you like for the purposes of the thread.

    Has your question, whatever it was, been answered?
  6. Nov 7, 2015 #5


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    I'm not entirely sure what is the purpose of this thread.
  7. Nov 7, 2015 #6


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    Agreed. Is a B-2 all wing or all fuselage? An HL-10? Why bother splitting such hairs?

    Thread closed.
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