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Name: Alex
Status: Student
Grade: 6-8
Location: CA
Country: United States
Date: December 2006

How does the wing span effect the flight of the plane?

Alex -

I have two thoughts that might help answer your question. Although the wing span itself does not directly affect the flight of the aircraft, it is part of a more complex story.

There is a concept called aspect ratio. To calculate the aspect ratio, you divide the wing span by the chord of the wing. The chord is the distance from the leading edge to the tailing edge. A high aspect ration is found on wings that are good at gliding. Pilots call it a good "L over D" (written L/D). Have you seen gliders with long thin wings? These have high aspect ratios and can glide a long distance for their height above the ground. Power planes do not need a high aspect ration because they have engines and do not have to depend on their ability to glide. If you know what a delta wing is... it has a very low aspect ration and does not glide very well at all.

A second way to address your question... if you multiply the span times the chord you will get the area of the wing. When you divide the weight of the aircraft by the area of the wing, you get the "wing loading."

Weight / wing area = wing loading

One of the chrematistics of an airplane is its stall speed. The speed at which the aircraft can no longer maintain level flight. The stall speed increases as the wing loading increases. Looking at it in another way, the greater area of the wing (bigger wing span and/or bigger chord) the more weigh the aircraft can bear without having a problem with stall speed.

A last thought... one of the limiting factors in having a large wing span is the problem of making a long wing strong. In recent years we have developed new materials (like carbon fiber technology) which makes long wing spans easier to construct.

Larry Krengel

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