As seen in the picture, some older planes have external HF antennas that run from the fuselage to the tail. Have any studies found the wire to be a significant source of drag or is the difference negligible compared to moving an entire plane through the air?



1 Answer 1


As this film shows with brilliant simpliciy, the drag of a round wire is almost 10 times the drag of the same thickness streamlined shape.

Biplanes use streamline rod for flying and landing wires because of this. There is enough flying/landing wire on a biplane for it to make a huge difference.

On a long antenna wire however, there really isn't a practical way to streamline it, and even if you did, to keep the streamline contour properly oriented, so you just live with the drag penalty of the wire.

It also helps that the sharply "swept" angle of the wire in the picture to the airflow means the profile presented to the airstream is more of an oval shape than circular, so the drag of the swept wire will be somewhat less than a wire presented to the airstream at 90 degrees.

So in the case of the 737, the wire itself is probably pretty minor factor overall, but I wouldn't be surprised if the wire costs a couple of knots of cruise speed at a given power setting.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, if you made the HF antenna a streamlined ribbon-ish with the long axis of the cross-section fore-and-aft, you'd do great...until you got into a nonzero sideslip angle situation, where the drag penalty would just get worse and worse and worse. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2019 at 0:30

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