Can lifting bodies be made for supersonic flight, say up to Mach 3? What would they look like? How would they differ from lifting bodies for normal subsonic flight?

  • $\begingroup$ A lot of missiles generates lift from the body and fly high speed. $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2017 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ AFAIK that's what they were first developed for, orbital reentry vehicles. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Aug 3, 2017 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't imagine lifting body flying at subsonic flight before reading this question. Then I realized they must slow down to land. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Sep 3, 2017 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ A lot of surface-air missiles uses lifting bodies now hence "wingless" $\endgroup$ Sep 3, 2017 at 16:17

2 Answers 2


Lifting bodies were extensively used for reentry vehicles. In the Fifties and early Sixties there were two camps with different ideas how to go to space:

  • The Air Force wanted to increase vehicle speed and altitude incrementally such that finally a horizontally-launched, winged vehicle would reach space. Since the materials and propulsion were still lacking, they started at both ends of the flight envelope: One culminated in the X-15 research program, and the other researched how best to land a vehicle suitable for re-entry. This produced craft like the Northrop HL-10, which is shown below.

Northrop HL-10 with B-52 launcher overhead

Northrop HL-10 with B-52 launcher overhead (picture source)

  • The US Army, on the other hand, tried to increase the size of rockets, traditionally used as an alternative to artillery, and got a helping hand from some other ex-Army guys who had lived through exactly the same split of technologies, where the Wehrmacht preferred rockets and the Luftwaffe preferred flying vehicles.

So not only can lifting bodies be made for Mach 3 and higher, they pretty much originated from the work done to fly at hypersonic speed, at least for a short while.


I don't know why a lifting body be not made supersonic. In supersonic regime, you just have to deal with shock waves and that a.c. theoretically moves to mid-chord region in 2-D analysis of the airfoil. In many practical cases, flow behind the shock wave happens to be subsonic,which makes it so much easy to apply your theories of subsonic physics over the behind shock wave region.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ do you have any sources to back up your statements? $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Aug 4, 2017 at 8:18

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