What Are the Differences Between High Wing and Low Wing Aircraft?

If you are somewhat familiar with aircraft, you may have noticed that some differ from each other in regards to the configuration of the aircraft wing. The two most common configurations present on aircraft are the high wing and low wing style, and each provides different capabilities and functionalities. In this blog, we will discuss the differences between these two wing types, as well as how they impact the performance of the aircraft that they are attached to.

Differences Between High Wing and Low Wing

High wing aircraft refer to those that have their wings mounted above the fuselage, and they are typically flat in design. As an example, the Cessna 172 serves as one of the most common aircraft with a high wing configuration. Low wing aircraft, on the other hand, are those where the wings are mounted towards the lower half of the fuselage. In general, these wings may feature some dihedral, meaning that the wing tips are angled upwards from the wing root in order to improve lateral stability. One of the most common aircraft that feature a low wing configuration is the Piper Cherokee.

While many may argue over which of the two configurations is better, there is no concrete answer besides personal opinion based on performance and needs. This is due to the fact that both present different characteristics which may benefit a certain application over the other. Across aircraft wing types, the placement of a wing will often affect the flight characteristics of the aircraft. To put these differences into perspective, we can examine how the wing configuration of the earlier discussed Cessna 172 and Piper Cherokee affect their flight capabilities.

To establish stability of the aircraft during flight, the location of the center of mass and the center of lift is critical. With a high wing configuration such as is on the Cessna 172, the center of mass is below the center of lift, allowing it to be more stable as compared to a low wing aircraft in which lift is below the center of mass. To ensure that a low wing aircraft is more stable, wings are angled upwards to compensate for the difference. The construction of high and low wings also differ from one another, often coming in the form of their support structures. With a high wing structure, such as is used for the Cessna 172, the fuselage is hung from the wing spars. As the fuselage, engines, and wing tank account for a lot of weight, a wing strut is needed on each side to accommodate for it. Meanwhile, a low wing aircraft has its fuselage on top of the wing spar, thus wing struts are not needed. As a high wing configuration requires the wing to have a spar on top of a separate spar for landing gear, the empty weight of the aircraft is increased. Low wing aircraft, meanwhile, share the same spar for the landing gear and wings.

Advantages of High Wing Aircraft

In general, there are various advantages that each type brings to an aircraft. For high wing aircraft, pilots may have an unobstructed view of the ground due to the wing position, more ground clearance, shorter landing distances with less impact on the landing gear, easier entrance and exits, protection from weather, improved rudder and elevator effectiveness, and do not require fuel pumps for fuel delivery. With their advantages, high wing aircraft are most useful for back country flights, sightseeing, photography, aerial reconnaissance, cargo transportation, and more.

Advantages of Low Wing Aircraft

Low wing aircraft on the other hand have shorter takeoff distance, better overhead views, a clear view of the base on the final turn, are lighter in weight, can have a safer emergency water landing, and enable an easier fuel tank refill from the ground. In general, low wing aircraft are most advantageous for activities such as performance base flying and flights where more maneuverability is desired.

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March 15, 2022

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