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Couldn't you just generate lift with a long body? Maybe a little broader than a normal plane.

As a design enhancement, we would need a heavier bottom, so the plane doesn't flips to a side.

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fighters are designed almost like that or flying wings – ratchet freak Mar 30 '14 at 1:41
Related, even though the designs still had regular wings: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/3842/… – Peter Kämpf Jun 9 at 20:16

Do airplanes need wings?

Wait a minute! Airplanes have to have wings by FAA regulation, so you won't find any airplane without wings in the US.

FAA definition:

Airplane. An engine-driven fixed-wing aircraft heavier than air, that is supported in flight by the dynamic reaction of the air against its wings.

My advice here: If you encounter an airplane without wings (an unapproved case) do only your duty, call FAA immediately at 866-TELL-FAA (866-835-5322):

enter image description here

Aircraft on the other hand has benefited from FAA's leniency, and don't have to have wings:

Aircraft. A device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air.

As you can see, they are not required to have an engine, nor large rocks in the cargo hold to ensure they are still heavier than air. No, the only requirements for an aircraft are that:

  • At the beginning you intend to make the thing fly. It's perfectly legal to try to see if you could save wings from the bill, as long as you are honestly expecting it to fly.
  • You want it to fly in the air, not in the water, certainly not in the vacuum of the space. That's the part requiring all your attention during the design. The lift must be carefully monitored, you need to remain in this tiny layer called atmosphere, else you leave the aircraft category, and maybe the aviation field too.

This is a wingless aircraft:

enter image description here
Full scale Lippisch's Aerodyne, a VTOL aircraft built at Collins (Source)

This one is fully in the law, don't call FAA...

It's certainly a stupid answer, I did my best for, but it's correct :-)

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He has a point. – Ryan Mortensen Jun 8 at 23:53
You get +100 pedant points. Nice work! – Jamiec Jun 9 at 15:31
The "aircraft" definition doesn't require that it has to be only used for (or be intended for) flight in the air. The Space Shuttle certainly was intended for flight in the air, even though it didn't remain in the atmosphere. – cpast Jun 11 at 21:11
@cpast: Interesting! According to Wikipedia the Space Shuttle was a spaceplane: "an aerospace vehicle that operates as an aircraft in Earth's atmosphere, as well as a spacecraft when it is in space". It seems they have anticipated all cases :-) – mins Jun 11 at 22:32

Yes you can, these are called lifting bodies, they are not very efficient and require a lot of speed before they generate enough lift to stay aloft, requiring a long runway.

In 1983 a F-15 fighter lost a wing in a mid air collision and was able to land safely due in part by the main body being able to generate enough lift for the plane to stay controllable.

They are only really useful for supersonic flight where normal wings create too much drag

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That f-15 story never fails to amaze me. – codedude Mar 30 '14 at 5:32
Saw a pic of that F-15. A couple feet beyond the wing root the wing was just ... gone. Amazing. – radarbob Apr 2 '14 at 3:03
Pics or it didn't happen: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/9884/… – Bigbio2002 May 6 '14 at 17:26
Although remember that the F-15 also has a >1 Thrust-weight ratio... in theory, if you could balance one properly, you could pull up vertically and reduce power which would allow could hover and land vertically on the tail. In that crash, the engine thrust was used to augment lift (along with the high speed) – Jon Story Nov 21 '14 at 12:13

There are indeed lifting bodies which were able to fly without wings. But wings are much better at creating lift than a bulky fuselage. The space shuttle was developed based on testing lifting bodies, which allows it to have fairly small wings.

What you are describing sounds a bit like the blended-wing-body (BWB), which smoothly integrates the fuselage with the wing. Sort of like a commercial version of the B-2 flying wing design.

enter image description here

This is certainly still in the concept phase. Boeing has flown a scale model to test the concept, and it has performed well. Aside from being more efficient than traditional designs, it can also produce much less noise if the engines are positioned above the fuselage.

We have about 100 years of development in the traditional airplane design, which contributes to the efficiency and safety that we are able to achieve right now. Going with a BWB design alters so many of the standard design features that this presents a very radical change. When the benefits start to outweigh the costs of moving to this design, we may start to see more planes like this.

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The BWB design is interesting, but it's unlikely to ever be used in an airliner. First, this shape doesn't fit nicely into the gate systems at airports. Second, most of the passengers would have to sit too far from doors or windows to be comfortable (or to meet evacuation requirements). – fluffysheap Mar 30 '14 at 6:57
@fluffysheap yeah, waaaay too many middle seats in a plane like that. It is interesting how much customer perception matters. I remember watching a documentary on Boeing vs. Lockheed designing a new fighter (Lockheed won and gave us the F-35), but Boeing's design was so radical, it almost was doomed from the beginning because it didn't "look" like what a fighter "should" look like. I think the same thing applies with airplanes. In fact (and this is ridiculous), I knew someone who wanted to fly Pipers rather than Cessna singles because the Pipers "looked like a real airplane." – Canuk Mar 30 '14 at 15:06
Hey! More radical and absurd airplane designs: dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2538651/… – shortstheory Mar 30 '14 at 17:04
Saying that lifting bodies testing is what allowed the shuttle to have small wings might be a little misleading because you make it sound like the shuttle was designed using lifting body concepts, when really all they shared in common was a steep approach profile followed by a long flare. In fact, one of the reasons lifting-body research was abandoned by the US Air Force was because the Shuttle decided to go with a double-delta wing instead of a lifting body configuration. – Bret Copeland Mar 31 '14 at 0:40

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