Looking at different types of airplanes, you’ll notice that wing shapes and configurations can be different. How many types of wings are there?
There are seven main wing configurations used on planes including low wing, mid wing, high wing, dihedral wing, anhedral wing, gull wing, and inverted gull wing. There are also five different shapes used for aircraft wings including rectangular, tapered straight, elliptical, swept, and delta.
Based on the information you just read, between different wing configurations and shapes there can be 35 different wing setups on aircraft today. So it can be difficult to really know what you’re looking at. In this article, you’ll learn about all the different configurations and shapes used on aircraft wings today.
Everything that you read below has been vetted for accuracy to ensure that you only get the best information possible. The information in this article comes from our personal knowledge, research into aircraft and airfoil design, and discussions with other experts in the aviation industry.
How Are The Different Types Of Aircraft Wings Classified?
We all know that the wings of an aircraft are some of the most important parts of the plane, if not the most important part of a plane. The wings generate lift that actually allows the plane to leave the ground and begin flying, not to mention they typically also hold the fuel. But as anyone who has even very little knowledge of the aviation industry can tell you, planes have vastly different looking wings than others.
Take a look at a single-engine personal aircraft, a commercial passenger jet, and a fighter jet. You’ve undoubtedly seen all of these types of planes, or at least pictures of them, again and again throughout your life. Now these planes all look incredibly different from each other, right? The biggest reason why is because of the different wing designs that each plane uses.
While there is a lot more engineering and design that goes into the particular wing configuration on any given aircraft, we can typically classify them in two main ways — mounting position (style) and shape. For the most part, wings can be put into one of seven mounting positions or styles and they can be one of five shapes.
As mentioned above, this means that there could theoretically be 35 possible wing configurations in total, not all wing shapes can be used in all wing configurations. That said, there are quite a few total combinations and configurations possible. But for the sake of being concise, let’s take a look at each mounting position and each wing shape separately so that you have an idea of everything possible.
After reading through the information below, you might even be able to go look at any given aircraft and tell someone the specific wing setup on that plane. So let’s get right into it!
Types Of Aircraft Wings Based On Mounting Position And Style
Low Wing Configuration
As you’ll see for the first few configurations here, some of them are pretty easy to figure out just based on the names. The low wing configuration is incredibly common and is likely the one that you’re most used to if you fly single-engine aircraft. While some smaller planes don’t use the low wing configuration (i.e. the Cessna 172), most of them do.
The low wing configuration simply means that the wings are mounted low on the body of the plane, below the middle of it. This configuration is beneficial to pilots because it typically offers the best overall visibility since the pilots will be able to see left, right, forward, and up with unencumbered vision. This common configuration also typically makes planes easier to maneuver and a bit more responsive to adjustments to the controls.
Mid Wing Configuration
As the name suggests, the mid wing configuration is when the wings are mounted directly in the middle of the body of the plane, halfway up the fuselage. This wing configuration requires support to go through the fuselage and support the mounting of the wings, which greatly reduces the overall useful space inside the fuselage. This is why this configuration is far rarer than the other two similarly-named ones.
The biggest benefit of the mid wing design is that the plane is about as balanced as it can be during flight and offers better stability than low wing airplanes. The tradeoff is that these planes are usually less responsive and less maneuverable than their low wing counterparts. Mid wing configurations are a great compromise between high and low wing setups.
High Wing Configuration
You've seen the name a couple of times by now, but the last of the three basic wing setups is the high wing configuration. This is the design in which the wings are mounted to the top of the fuselage. This is the type of configuration that you’ll see on large cargo and military planes as well as some smaller aircraft, such as the aforementioned Cessna 172 Skyhawk.
The high wing configuration is ideal for large cargo and military planes that specialize in transport because they allow the fuselage to be closer to the ground, making it easier to load and unload cargo and personnel. This is because the engines are mounted on the bottom of the wings, but since the wings are mounted high on the fuselage, the engines have plenty of space underneath and the fuselage can still be close to the ground.
Dihedral Wing Configuration
Now we’ll start getting into some of the more complex wing configurations that are a bit harder to figure out what they are than the three basic ones above. Keep in mind that the three above are the parent configurations that will typically house the remaining setups within them. The first of which that we’ll look at is the incredibly common dihedral wing configuration.
On wings that use this setup, the main thing is that the tips of the wings are higher than the base that mounts to the fuselage. The wings are angled up from the body of the plane, usually mounted low on the fuselage, to increase stability during flying and turning. This configuration is ideal for small aircraft as it enables the plane to quickly level out and stabilize after an aggressive flight.
Anhedral Wing Configuration
As the name might imply, anhedral wing configurations are basically the direct opposite of the dihedral wings that you just read about. This means that the tips of the wings are lower than the base of the wing, as they’re pointed downward from the fuselage to the end of the wings. To ensure there’s enough space for that, the wings are usually mounted in the high wing configuration, attached to the plane on the upper surface of the body.
This is one of the least common wing configurations out there, with very few modern aircraft utilizing this setup. Anhedral wings are typically used to reduce stability in cases where other parts of the plane add too much lateral stability. That sentence is a bit of a strange thing to even think about since too much stability sounds impossible. Again, that’s why this design is rarely used.
Gull Wing Configuration
The next two wing configurations are a bit harder to describe and visualize in words, but we’ll do our best. The gull wing configuration uses a dihedral wing design right at the body, as the wings immediately angle upwards. But after a short distance, the dihedral angle is either heavily reduced or negated entirely and the remainder of the wing could even be flat.
The biggest reason that gull wings were created was to ensure that there is ample clearance for engines and propellers. By immediately angling upwards sharply and then flattening out, there is plenty of space for propellers and the pilot’s visibility in the immediate area outside of the cockpit is improved. A strange yet incredibly useful design.
Inverted Gull Wing
As the name implies, the inverted gull wing design is the mirror image of the standard gull wing. With this wing configuration, the wings are mounted towards the bottom of the aircraft and then shoot sharply downward, like an inverted dihedral. Then they kick back upwards like a standard dihedral wing — basically each wing creates its own long-tailed “V” shape.
The inverted gull wing configuration is used to strengthen the plane while also lowering the overall weight, two things that typically are difficult to do at the same time. This is because this specialized wing style allows for the undercarriage that the wings mount to be shortened and the fuselage can be raised, thus making the structure lighter and stronger at the same time.
Types Of Aircraft Wings Based On Shape and Design
Now that you know about the most common wing configurations and mounting positions, let’s talk about the most common shapes used for aircraft wings. These are typically the main thing that people will recognize when they look at an aircraft’s wings since the shape can be discerned even if you don’t know the particulars of all the different possible mounting configurations.
The easiest wing to picture in your mind without really even knowing anything about aircraft and wing design, in general, is the rectangular wing. As you can probably guess, rectangular wings are, well, rectangular in shape. It is the most basic wing not only to recognize, but it’s also the easiest wing to manufacture due to how simple it is.
These wings are not tapered, they don’t have any weird angles to account for, and they’re just composed of straight lines. While these are all advantages for manufacturing, they are not great for actual flying. Rectangular wings are not the most aerodynamic wing shapes out there, which is why they are not really used anymore in modern aircraft.
Tapered Straight Wing
To improve on the incredibly basic design of the rectangular wing above, engineers decided to taper the wing by differing the chord of the wing along its length. This tapered shape greatly increased the efficiency of the plane due to a much more aerodynamic design overall, but it still isn’t a very good wing in the grand scheme of things.
The big thing with the tapered wing other than being an improvement over the rectangular design was that it was still fairly easy to manufacture. A bit more complex to build than the rectangular wing, but far easier than other better overall designs, such as the next one you’ll see on this list.
The elliptical wing is the exact opposite of the rectangular wing in terms of its advantages and disadvantages. To start, the elliptical wing design is one of the most efficient and aerodynamic wing shapes ever created. Since the entirety of the wing gets to take advantage of the curvature of the wing and the accompanying lift distribution, it’s highly efficient in terms of aerodynamics.
But as we said, its disadvantage is the biggest advantage of the rectangular wing — they’re incredibly hard to manufacture. First of all, the entire wing is curved, which is far harder to create than the straight lines of the rectangular wing. Secondly, these wings were designed to be as thin as possible, which further complicates things during manufacturing.
Swept back wings are one of the most common shapes of wings that you might have encountered in your life during some of your airline travels over the years. As the name suggests, swept back wings refer to wings where the tips are swept back relative to the base where they’re mounted to the fuselage.
The big advantage of swept back wings is that the shape actually reduces drag during flight. This helps the aircraft fly through the air much more efficiently since it doesn't have to overcome the adverse effects of drag. Swept back wings are typically used on high-speed commercial planes that travel at transonic speeds.
Delta wings are triangular shaped (hence the word delta) wings that are used in specialized situations mainly with supersonic aircraft. The big advantage of delta wings is that they are efficient during both subsonic and supersonic flight, something that the majority of wing shapes cannot say. The large surface area provided by delta wings also makes the aircraft incredibly maneuverable.
But that of course doesn’t mean that delta wings are just the perfect wing design and they have no drawbacks to consider. The low aspect ratio of the delta wings creates excessive amounts of drag, which is not exactly ideal. Secondly, during takeoff and landing, the delta wings require a high angle of attack because of their shape and the lift that they generate at low speeds.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood