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Name: Cassie
Status: student
Grade: 6-8
Location: NH
Country: USA
Date: Fall 2013


Question:
What is the weight proportions of an airplane, wings to body?



Replies:
Hi Cassie,

The wing contributes to the total weight of the airplane. The amount that it contributes can vary with design and the type of aircraft. But for a single engine airplane, most of the weight is in the fuselage, which contains the passenger and baggage compartment, engine, cockpit and instruments/avionics. In general, the wing is built strongly enough to withstand the aerodynamic loads imposed on it, but otherwise it is kept as light as possible.

I wonder if you might be interested in the size of the wing compared to the total weight of the aircraft. That's called the wing loading. For small general aviation aircraft, a wing loading of 10 lb per square foot is pretty typical, but for a large passenger jet this goes up to around 100 lb per square foot. For a glider, 0.5 lb per square foot is typical. For large birds like hawks, 1 lb per square foot is pretty close.

Regards, John C. Strong


Hi, Cassie

I am an electrical engineer who has a minor interest in aircraft. After doing engineering for 37 years I can tell you that almost everything is more complicated than you think.

The space shuttle needs to glide through the atmosphere to return to earth. Its design is based upon one idea called the "lifting body." With the lifting body, the whole body of the aircraft acts like a wing.

There is another opposite idea called the "flying wing". In this, the entire aircraft is a wing, and much of that wing acts like a body. Some flying wing type aircraft have also flown.

Low speed aircraft will usually have a large wing area for their weight. This is called low "wing loading". In the USA, this is specified in pounds per square foot. Internationally it could be expressed in Newtons per square meter.

Some high speed aircraft will have small wings for their weight, so will have high wing loading.

Many passenger aircraft carry fuel in their wings, so the weight division depends upon how much fuel they are carrying.

So you see that some aircraft may be composed of almost all wing, or almost no wing. The wings can be large or small. I think there is no simple answer to your question. I hope I have helped your understanding.

Best regards, Bob Zwicker


Hi Cassie,

There is in fact, no fixed relationship between the weight of an aircraft's wings, and the weight of its body. There are far too many different body and wing designs, to be able to draw any comparison such as you are suggesting.

It is also worth noting that most large aircraft use the wings as fuel tanks, so clearly, as the plane uses up its fuel, the weight of the wings changes dramatically. Similarly, the weight of the plane's cargo must be included in the weight of the "body", and that changes dramatically with load. So with the weight of the wings, and the weight of the body, changing dramatically, this makes it nearly impossible to arrive at a fixed ratio between the weight of the winds and that of the body.

Regards, Bob Wilson


Hi Cassie,

Thanks for the question. The weight proportions of wing to body vary depending on the construction of the aircraft as well as the fuel loading. For instance, in the Airbus A-340, the flight crew can transfer fuel to and from the tanks on the wings, so the weight proportions will change.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have more questions. Thanks Jeff Grell


Cassie

That is a hard question to answer because the size and weight of an aircraft's wing varies.

For instance, some wings have fuel cells in them and others do not. Some wings are long and thick for heavy transport while others are thin and short for speed. So I am sorry, but I do not have an answer for you.

Here is a NASA graphic that may help you understand how an airplane's weight is calculated by aircraft designers: IMAGE NOT ACQUIRED - GO TO WEB SITE.

This graphic came from this web site: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/VirtualAero/BottleRocket/airplane/Images/weight2.gif&imgrefurl=http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/VirtualAero/BottleRocket/airplane/weight2.html&h=464&w=620&sz=21&tbnid=SUXoy4geXDZ0pM:&tbnh=96&tbnw=128&zoom=1&usg=__zS54wdPOsIFPjOvWGwXarQuoThs=&docid=fqLSxF4qN_jEtM&sa=X&ei=fXxVUqu2Jq7F4APU4ICACg&ved=0CFAQ9QEwBg

Here is a Wikipedia article that presents all of the definitions of the type of weights aircraft designers work with.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aircraft_gross_weight

Sincere regards, Mike Stewart



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