Airbus A320-232 – landing

Wing – a surface used to produce an aerodynamic force normal to the direction of motion by traveling in air or another gaseous medium, facilitating flight. The first use of the word was for the foremost limbs of birds, but has been extended to include other animal limbs and man-made devices.

  • chord – the distance between the front and back of a wing, measured in the direction of the normal airflow. These front and back points are referred to as the leading edge and trailing edge.
  • dihedral – upward angle of an aircraft’s wings from root to tip, as viewed from directly in front of or behind the aircraft.
  • stability
  • wing tip vortex

Ailerons – hinged flaps attached to the trailing edge of an airplane wing. They are used to control the aircraft in roll. The two ailerons are interconnected so that one goes down when the other goes up: the downgoing aileron increases the lift on its wing while the upgoing aileron reduces the lift on the other wing.


Partially deployed spoilers on Boeing 767 during descent

Spoiler – In aeronautics, a spoiler (sometimes called a lift dumper) is a device intended to reduce lift in an aircraft. Spoilers are plates on the top surface of a wing that can be extended upward into the airflow to spoil it. By so doing, the spoiler creates a controlled stall over the portion of the wing behind it, greatly reducing the lift of that wing section. Spoilers differ from airbrakes in that airbrakes are designed to increase drag without regard to affecting the lift, while spoilers reduce lift as well as increase drag.

laminar flow – the smooth, uninterrupted flow of air over the contour of the wings, fuselage, or other parts of an aircraft in flight. Laminar flow is most often found at the front of a streamlined body and is an important factor in flight.

  • turbulence – If the smooth flow of air is interrupted over a wing section, turbulence is created which results in a loss of lift and a high degree of drag. An airfoil designed for minimum drag and uninterrupted flow of the boundary layer is called a laminar airfoil.

Aeronautical design

  • leading edge
  • trailing edge



“hybrid wing body” or sometimes a blended wing body. In this design, the wing blends seamlessly into the body of the aircraft, which makes it extremely aerodynamic and holds great promise for dramatic reductions in fuel consumption, noise and emissions.

NASA develops concepts like these to test in computer simulations and as models in wind tunnels to prove whether the possible benefits would actually occur.
This NASA concept, called the “N3-X,” uses a number of superconducting electric motors to drive the distributed fans to lower the fuel burn, emissions, and noise. The power to drive these electric fans is generated by two wing-tip mounted gas-turbine-driven superconducting electric generators.

That’s engineering

  • Lift is created as an airstream passes by an airfoil and is deflected downward. The force created by this deflection of the air creates an equal and opposite force upward on an airfoil (see Newton’s third law.) Both the top and bottom surfaces of the airfoil play important roles in deflecting the airflow downward. Nearly any shape will produce lift if tilted with respect to the air flow direction (inclined) or cambered (curved). However, most shapes will be very inefficient and create a great deal of drag. One of the primary goals of airfoil design is to devise a shape that produces the most lift while producing the least drag.

Engineering ideas

  • lift, airfoil, deflection, force, Newton’s Third Law, inclined, cambered, inefficient, drag, aerodynamic force,

Do It
Challenges for you to work on…

  • Control surfaces – A plane has parts on its wings and tail called control surfaces to help it. These can be demonstrated by use of folded paper gliders and balsa gliders. Experiment to illustrate how a plane is controlled.
  • create several wing shapes with different dimensions and compare the lift and drag of each. Which design works better? What are the differences?

Learn more…