I think negative lift is where high pressure forms on the top of the wing instead of the bottom. I know that Indy cars use negative lift and some sports cars do, but do any aircraft exist that use negative lift and why do they use negative lift?


4 Answers 4


A lot of aircraft generate negative lift- not in the wings, but in the tail plane. This is used for stability. Consider a trimmed aircraft as shown below:

Trimmed aircraft

Image from grc.nasa.gov

On most aircraft, the center of gravity (through which weight acts) of the airplane is located near the center of pressure (through which lift acts) of the wing. If the center of presure of the wing is aft of the center of gravity, its lift produces a counter-clockwise rotation about the cg. A positive lift force from the tail produces a counter-clockwise rotation about the cg.

To trim the aircraft (i.e. no rotation about c.g), it is necessary to balance the torques produced by the wing and the tail. But since both rotations are counter-clockwise, it is impossible to balance the two rotations to produce no rotation. However, if the tail lift is negative it then produces a clockwise rotation about the cg which can balance the wing rotation. For this reason, the tailplane is designed to produce a negative lift.

Text from Trimmed aircraft- slightly modified.

  • $\begingroup$ so, why are the wings so far behind the center of gravity? $\endgroup$
    – njzk2
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ @njzk2 For longitudinal static stability. In short: if the aircraft's angle of attack increases (and/or its airspeed decreases,) the negative lift of the tail plane will decrease in magnitude (become less negative,) which will cause the pitching moments to become unbalanced, and the nose to drop. The nose dropping will, in turn, reduce the angle of attack and increase the airspeed, moving the aircraft back towards its previous attitude. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ @njzk2 Similarly, if the airspeed increases and/or the AoA decreases, the tail plane's lift will become more negative, pushing the tail down and the nose up in order to move back toward the aircraft's previous attitude. Note that all of this occurs with no pilot (or autopilot) input. It's designed to be a mechanical property of the airframe itself. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 6:25

Yes . . . . . . . . .

flying upside down

  • 19
    $\begingroup$ "A good landing effort, Tony, but perhaps a little less flare next time?" $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 13:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ 'Tis not quite a negative lift, when seen from the ground... $\endgroup$
    – yo'
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 13:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @yo' the plane can do that the right way up too to lose altitude, but this way is more obvious. $\endgroup$
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 13:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Imma say the pole holder on the far side is smarter than the pole holder on the near side.If the pilot's a little off on his aim, one gets a broken wrist, the other a broken face... $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 20:42
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As the saying goes, a picture says a thousand words. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 6:23

Yes. Most airplanes have the centre of mass forward of the centre of lift of the main wing(s). This would make the airplane "tip over" forwards, so the tailplane is an upside-down wing, and provides negative lift sufficient to balance the airplane. This is a conventional arrangement. On some, the "car spoiler" shape of the tailplane, with the flat side on top and the cambered side underneath, is very obvious.


Short Answer: Yes

Long Answer: Well, partially....You see, lift is generated not only at the wings but also at the tail. The aircraft's tail has an elevator and a rudder (most single engine planes) by way of control structures. The pitching motion of the airplane is caused by altering the elevator's shape. The nose stays where it is (in the vertical plane) when the lift at the wings is balanced by that at the tail. However, when the lift at the tail increases the nose starts dropping. Similarly, when the lift at the tail decreases, the nose rises up. You could call the increased downward at the tail 'negative-lift'.

I hope that answered your question. If you are patient enough, try reading this chapter from the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. It is the same book I used for my pilot's license.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank You. Again, I appreciate the edit. I do not think I need to roll it back. I got a little help notification box here. That should help me format things better. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 15:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .