While browsing this Stack Exchange, I regularly come across mentions of canards. I am not familiar with this term, and Google only gives information about ducks when I search for "canard". So, what is a canard?

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    $\begingroup$ First canard - Has a duck look? Canard is the french word for duck. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ You forgot to type in the word airplane after Canard(Canard Airplane) and it will come up with many results like this one (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canard_(aeronautics)) When you do search a word on google make sure to write what you are referring too after you type in the word(What not to type- Buffalo, What to type- Buffalo university) I hope this is some good advice for you :) $\endgroup$
    – Ethan
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ Also if you are looking for definition of a word, going straight to Wikipedia often gives better results than Google. In this case you'd get a disambiguation page and one of the options given is Canard (aeronautics) you are looking for. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 19:13

4 Answers 4


In aeronautics, a canard is a small wing that is located in front of the main wing of the aircraft. This is similar to the elevator, but is located in front of the wing, instead of behind it. The configuration,and in some cases, the aircraft itself may be called a canard. From Merriam- Webster dictionary:

an airplane with horizontal stabilizing and control surfaces in front of supporting surfaces

also : a small airfoil in front of the wing of an aircraft that can increase the aircraft's performance

The reason why it is called a canard (French for duck) has to do with the wing location. From Flying Magazine Jan 1982:

This is called a canard, from the French word for duck; with its long neck, a duck appears to have set its wing towards the rear of the fuselage.

The photo below shows the canard in front of the main wing of SU 30 MKI.


Source: defence.pk

The canards have been used in aircraft for a long time. infact, the first aircraft, the Wright Flyer was a canard biplane.

Wright Flyer

"Kitty hawk gross" by Attributed to Wilbur Wright (1867–1912) and/or Orville Wright (1871–1948). Most likely taken by Orville Wright. - File:Wilbur Wright after unsuccessful flight trial.jpg (itself from Library of Congress). Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

The period from WWI to WWII saw the 'conventional' configuration with horizontal tail dominate the aircraft design. The canard configuration was not revived until the jet age by the European manufacturers, starting with Saab Viggen.

Saab Viggen

"Saab AJS-37 Viggen 37098 52 (SE-DXN) (9256079273)" by Alan Wilson - Saab AJS-37 Viggen '37098/ 52' (SE-DXN)Uploaded by High Contrast. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

The canard configuration is used in almost all European fighter Designs, as they have more or less exclusively turned towards tailless delta configurations.

Also, a number of super-maneuverable aircraft use canards as the control authority is larger for unstable canard aircraft at high $C_{L}$ than for unstable aft-tail designs. The photo below shows the canards in F-15 ACTIVE


Source: tom-clancys-hawx.wikia.com


Your Google search has apparently had too much wine and can only speak French :)
The relevant dictionary definition is:


  • an airplane that has its horizontal stabilizer and elevators located forward of the wing. Also called canard wing.
  • One of two small lifting wings located in front of the main wings.

A picture, however, is worth all of dictionary.com:

Eurofighter Typhoon showing canard wing

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    $\begingroup$ A picture with decent resolution and without jpeg compression artifacts, however, is worth all of the internet. $\endgroup$
    – bjb568
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ @bjb568 Indeed, but I'm not motivated enough to hunt for one as aeroalias has provided several :) For the record though: The awful resolution and artifacts are the fault of the original image that I thieved to add the annotation on. I simply wrote on their digital pig with this handy tube of lipstick :) $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 23:21

A canard can mean both, the horizontal control surface placed at the forward end of an airplane and the whole airplane of this configuration itself. Also, the term canard configuration is used to distinguish it from a conventional configuration.

The term comes indeed from the French word for ducks, since they also have a relatively rear wing location when they stretch out their necks in flight.

White duck in flight

White duck in flight (picture source).

The airplanes built by the Wright Brothers were canards, as was the first all-metal airplane:

Wright glider

(picture source)

Reissner Ente in flight

Reissner Ente, the first all-metal airplane, in flight (picture source)

A more modern example is the Speed Canard, which even uses this term in its name. Flying direction is to the right:

Speed canard in flight

(picture source)

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    $\begingroup$ Note that "Ente", in Reissner Ente, is German for duck. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 8:57
  • $\begingroup$ Nice picture of ducks indeed! The "common look" or the "duck look" perhaps stems from the main wings towards the back - not so much from the little wings at the front. $\endgroup$
    – user23573
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ I read the reference to the duck is because ducks control their flight also with their flat beak. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 0:01

The expression is shorthand for canard wing(s), small lifting surfaces mounted in front of the main wings on certain planes.

Incidentally, many (all?) current European fighter jets have this configuration, and you may therefore occasionally see references to "Euro-canards" as a general group of European-developed fighter jets, such as Eurofighter Typhoon, SAAB Gripen and Dassault Rafale.

The picture below shows the configuration clearly on a SAAB Gripen (Image source).

SAAB Gripen with clearly visible canard wings


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