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Different types of airplanes can look very different next to each other, especially with different wing setups. Let’s look at high wing vs low wing airplanes.
If you’ve flown (or at least seen) many different types of planes, then you've probably noticed that they don’t all look alike. Sure, commercial jets are all similar, but many smaller planes have more distinguishable design features. One of the easiest to spot when next to each other are high wing vs low wing configurations. Why are they different and what are the pros and cons of each?
High wing airplanes have wings that are mounted at the top of the fuselage, whereas low wing airplanes use the bottom portion of the fuselage to mount the wings. This affects how the planes generate lift, how maneuverable they are, how they take off and land, and more.
Many people may not know that there are multiple two types of wings on an airplane, with two configurations being the most common. These are the high wing and low wing configurations. They both have pros and cons, but they also affect how the plane flies differently. This article will help you understand what these differences are so that you can fly in style!
While we strive to provide you with entertaining content that you actually enjoy reading, we also want to make sure that you get the most accurate information that you can. The only way to do this is to take input from aviation enthusiasts and experts from all over (including ourselves) and combine it with extensive research. This way, you’ll know everything you want to know about high wing vs low wing airplanes.
What Does High Wing Or Low Wing Mean?
When we say “high wing airplane” and “low wing airplane”, it really is as simple as it sounds. We’re simply referring to the location of the wings on the airplane. Planes actually have all different kinds of wings, including both location and shapes. For this article, we’re only focusing on the differences between high wing and low wing aircraft, without putting an emphasis on the actual shape of the wings.
For a more detailed look at what the different wing configurations are in totality, check out our full article on airplane wings. For now, let’s get into high wing vs low wing airplanes.
What Is A High Wing Airplane?
A high wing airplane is an aircraft that has the main wings located near the top of the fuselage. This design feature gives the plane a higher level of stability and makes it less likely to roll or pitch in flight. High wing airplanes are often used for training and commercial transport applications. Without a doubt, the most common example of a high wing airplane is the wildly popular Cessna 172.
Compared to other types of aircraft, high wing planes are typically more stable and easier to fly. They also offer better visibility for the pilot, making them ideal for short-haul flights. However, they do tend to be less efficient when it comes to fuel economy and performance. High wing planes are popular among private pilots and recreational flyers because they offer a safe and stable flying experience.
They are also more affordable to purchase and maintain, making them an attractive option for many people. In fact, many (though not all), of the cheapest airplanes that you can buy & fly are high wing airplanes. This makes this type of plane a great option with a lower barrier to entry for the novice pilot that just got their wings.
What Is A Low Wing Airplane?
A low wing airplane is an aircraft that has its wings positioned near the bottom of the fuselage. This type of plane is typically considered to have a little less stability and worse handling than its high wing counterparts, but from experience I can tell you that it’s nothing crazy between the two.
Low wing airplanes are also typically faster than high wing planes, making them a popular choice for travel and sport flying. If this is the type of flying that you’re hoping to do with your airplane, then a low wing aircraft might be the best option for you. While they may not be as common as their high wing counterparts, these planes offer pilots and passengers a unique flying experience.
High Wing Airplanes Vs Low Wing Airplanes
Now that you have a bit of a better idea about the different wing configurations and what we’re referring to when we say high wing and low wing airplanes, let’s dive a little deeper. While we could compare every nut and bolt between one high wing airplane and one low wing airplane and see what’s the same and what’s different, I don’t think you’d want to read that and it wouldn’t really be too helpful in any case.
So let’s take a bit of a step back and look at it in a more general sense — just high wing vs low wing airplanes. We’ll look at the major differences between the two, the pros and cons of each, some of the common models of each type, how they fly differently, and we’ll touch on which type of plane is better. Buckle up and let’s go.
Biggest Differences Between High Wing And Low Wing Airplanes
There are a few key differences between high wing and low wing airplanes. The most noticeable is the placement of the wings on the fuselage, as discussed in more detail above. High wing airplanes have their wings mounted near the top of the plane, while low wing airplanes have their wings mounted closer to the bottom. This difference affects how each type of airplane handles in flight.
High wing airplanes are more stable and have better visibility than low wing airplanes. They are also easier to roll, meaning they can rotate around their longitudinal axis faster. Low wing airplanes are more maneuverable and can fly at slower speeds without stalling, and faster maximum speeds in most cases as well. However, they have poorer visibility and are less stable in flight.
The other major difference between high wing and low wing airplanes is where the engine is located. High wing airplanes can have their engines mounted on the wings (although certainly not always), while low wing airplanes can have their engines mounted at the fuselage. This difference affects how each type of airplane takes off and lands.
High wing airplanes take off and land more slowly than low wing airplanes because of their increased weight and the difference in how much lift is generated, which is one of the four major components of how planes fly. Low wing airplanes take off and land more quickly because the weight of the engine is closer to the ground. This also makes low wing airplanes better for performing stunts, as they can pull up faster than high wing airplanes.
Pros And Cons Of High Wing Airplanes
There are several benefits to high wing airplanes. They include:
- Better visibility for the pilot
- Easier maintenance and inspection, due to the location of the engines on the wings
- Higher ground clearance, making them a great option for bush planes and seaplanes
- Less drag, which makes them more fuel efficient
- More stable in flight, making them better suited for inexperienced pilots or those flying in bad weather conditions.
High wing airplanes are a great option for those looking for an easy-to-fly aircraft with great stability and good visibility. And while there are certainly some great benefits of having a high wing configuration, these airplanes are not without any drawbacks. If they were, then there would be no need for any other wing configuration!
High wing airplanes have some disadvantages. The wings are above the occupants’ heads, so there is less room inside for equipment or cargo, and tall pilots cannot stand up straight in them because of headroom problems. As a result, high-wing planes are more suitable for short flights with light loads. Finally, they can be less stable in strong crosswinds.
Pros And Cons Of Low Wing Airplanes
There are several pros to owning and flying a low wing airplane. Some of these benefits include:
- Aircraft stability in flight is enhanced with the low wing design, making it easier to fly for novice pilots.
- The visibility from the cockpit is excellent, allowing you to see more of what's going on around your plane.
- The wing is located lower to the ground, making for a shorter takeoff and landing distance.
- Low wing airplanes are often less expensive to purchase and maintain than their high wing counterparts.
So if you're looking for an aircraft that offers maneuverability, visibility and efficiency, a low wing airplane may be just what you need! That said, Low wing airplanes also have a few cons that you should keep in mind before buying one.
The first con is the limited room for luggage and other items on board. In general, there is not enough space to fit more than two people inside with any extra baggage they might be carrying along also thrown into the mix. The wings are also more likely to be damaged in the event of a crash or emergency landing since they’re closer to the surface, which eliminates them as an option for rugged terrain like what a bush plane lands on.
Another thing about low-wing airplanes is that they can be a lot trickier to land, especially in windy conditions. The wing may not quite cover the whole runway and this means it's harder for you as a pilot to judge your landing speed and position on the ground, meaning you really have to understand how to fly using instrumentation and airfield lighting.
What Are The Most Common High Wing Airplanes?
There are a few different types of high wing airplanes, some of which are among the most common models of airplanes that you’ve either flown, are planning on flying, or maybe even own yourself. The most common airplanes with a high wing configuration include:
- Cessna 150/152 Club
- Cessna 162 Skycatcher
- Cessna 172 Skyhawk
- Cessna 182 Skylane
- Cessna 206 Stationair
- Piper PA-18 Super Cub
- Piper PA-20 Pacer
- Pilatus PC-6 Porter
The list goes on and on. And on and on. There are literally thousands of airplanes out there with a high wing configuration, ranging from single-engine aircraft you might fly for fun on the weekends, to massive multi-engine jet airliners tumbling through the skies. So this isn’t any sort of niche wing configuration, it’s incredibly common in aviation!
What Are The Most Common Low Wing Airplanes?
On the flip, there are also some common low wing airplanes that you’ve likely flown, are planning on flying, or that you’re even considering buying on your own. Even though it might seem like high wing airplanes are better (at least for beginner pilots), that’s not necessarily the case, and low wing airplanes are plenty popular. Here are the most common low wing airplanes that you’ll find:
- Cessna 350 Skyknight
- Cessna 350 Corvalis
- Cessna 404 Titan
- Cirrus SR20
- Cirrus SR22
- Pilatus PC-7
- Piper PA-28 Cherokee
- Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche
- Piper PA-38 Tomahawk
Similar to high wing airplanes, the list of common low wing airplanes can seemingly go on for just about ever. Again, there are literally thousands of low wing airplanes. Since it’s such a general category of airplane, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. We’ve basically just split all the airplanes into existence into either high wing or low wing, so there are plenty of each!
Flight Characteristics Of High Wing Vs Low Wing Airplanes
As you have gathered by now and can likely imagine yourself without even reading this far, the different wing configurations will often lead to different flight characteristics. After all, there has to be a reason for the wings to be located in different spots in the first place, right? Of course! These are some of the major ways that high wing and low wing airplanes differ during flight.
When it comes to high wing airplanes, the wings themselves are typically larger than the wings found on low wing aircraft, which affects the plane's ability to roll and turn. There is also the possibility of increased lift. A large area under the wing can create more lift than a low wing plane. This can make it difficult to fly at slower speeds, because there may not be enough lift for the airplane to stay off the ground.
When it comes to low wing planes, the wings are smaller and they create less lift than a high wing plane does. This can make it difficult to fly in windy conditions, but at the same time it makes the planes far more responsive to input from the pilot, making low wing airplanes better in terms of agility and maneuverability. The low wing configuration moves the center of lift forward, which makes the plane more stable in flight, which can also help with takeoffs and landings.
Which Is Better: High Wing Or Low Wing Airplanes?
There is no simple answer to this question, we can say that high wing planes are better in some aspects and low wing planes better in others but neither of them will be clearly superior over the other in all cases. If one of them was clearly the better design, then the other type would exist in a very limited quantity. But there are literally thousands of planes that fall into both camps.
High wing planes are typically more stable in flight and this makes them a better choice for training purposes or if you're a beginner pilot. Low wing planes are faster and have better maneuverability which can be an advantage in some situations but it also makes them less stable.
There is no “better” configuration, it really comes down to personal preference because each one has its own strengths that can be better than the other one depending on what you're using it for. So get out there and fly a few different planes to see if you prefer high wing airplanes or low wing airplanes, then make an informed decision and buy one for yourself!