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When the plain "wing area" is given in basic aircraft specifications, what area does it usually refer to? Is the same area used for calculating the wing loading?

For example I have a fuller specification in front of me which gives areas for:

  • Main plane with ailerons
  • Main plane with ailerons and body centre section
  • Aileron, total
  • Tail plane
  • Elevators, two

If this were being condensed to a single value for "wing area", which of these would be used? Obviously, for something with a very long root chord such as a delta-wing jet, the areas with and without centre section will be very different, also leading to very different calculated wing loadings.

Has standard practice changed over the years?

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Yes, the plain wing area is also used for wing loading. How the value is calculaed depends on the method used. In all cases the center section and ailerons are included but the horizontal tail is excluded. Common is also the use of the projected area of the clean wing in the x-y-plane, because that is the area relevant for lift.

For airliners, the two most important methods are the Wimpress and the Airbus method (the Wimpress being used by Boeing). The difference is the triangles you get by extending the wing's leading and trailing edges forward into the fuselage for Wimpress versus connecting the points where the leading and trailing edges meet the fuselage on both sides by two straight lines for Airbus. This discussion on airliners.net lists a comparison of the wing areas you get with both methods for a range of models.

Wing area methods in comparison

Wing area methods in comparison. The shaded are is covered by the fuselage and determined differently; creating different areas for the same wing.

Note that the specifics of the method used is irrelevant for the purpose: This wing area serves as the reference area of most aerodynamic coefficients and either method is good enough for the purpose. Consistency is more important than precision here.

Both methods have been around for a while, so there was no change recently. But since both are used in parallel, there is no common standard.

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  • $\begingroup$ The C of A for DH.88 Comet Racer G-ACSS of 1934 requires the "Area of main planes" and this has been filled in with the area of the wings only, lacking the centre section, so different again. But was that technically the same meaning as "wing area" in those days? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ @GuyInchbald: When even today there is no common standard, i would expect that back then an individual engineer would use different ways to compute wing area, depending what he was working on. One that excludes the center section looks entirely plausible. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ So, when we calculate the lifting force, should we include the shaded area as the wing's part (included as wing area) regardless of the different between Airbus and Boeing's method? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @AirCraftLover Yes, the shaded area needs to be included. You need to correct for the Mitteneffekt and the lift loss due to the presence of the fuselage anyway, so any method is fine when the proper corrections are applied, too. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your confirmation and that additional info. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 19:03

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