I’ve been trying out different hobbies over the last year, and plane spotting is my current one.

I’ve heard some terms being thrown around about planes like the ones at the Airport - what is a Fixed Wing aircraft please?

Any examples would be good too.

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    $\begingroup$ Have you googled the term "fixed-wing aircraft"? Or checked wikipedia? $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Jan 20, 2022 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ This does not seem to be your first account. If you have lost access to your previous one(s), you can ask them to be merged by using the contact form: aviation.stackexchange.com/contact $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Jan 20, 2022 at 17:17

2 Answers 2


Fixed Wing is an "airplane".
Rotary Wing is a "helicopter".

The wings (lifting surface), either spin relative to the body, or are attached ("fixed") to the body.

  • $\begingroup$ don't forget gliders (sailplanes) -- $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2022 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ An airplane is a type of fixed-wing aircraft, but the terms are not synonymous. See e.g. Wikipedia. $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Jan 20, 2022 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ IMHO, this guy wasn't asking for the canonical definition. He seems to want a basic understanding of the term. For a beginner, fixed==airplane is a pretty good approximation. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Jan 20, 2022 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ Autogiros are rotary-wing aircraft, but they are not helicopters... $\endgroup$
    – xxavier
    Jan 20, 2022 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ I think this summary is good, given the level at which the question was asked. $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2022 at 20:01

Fixed wing is a kind of heavier than air aircraft which uses fixed i.e. non-moving wings and other lifting services attached to the air frame and forward motion to generate lift. Examples include airplanes, gliders, powered lift aircraft, ultralights, powered parachute and weight shift controlled aircraft.

Rotary wing aircraft are heavier than air aircraft which generate lift by means of lifting surfaces attached to, and rotating about, a central shaft. They can either be under power and driven by an engine, or auto rotating in airflow moving through the rotor disk. Examples include helicopters, gyroplanes, and powered lift.

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    $\begingroup$ Powered parachute is not fixed-wing. Fixed wing means rigid structure permanently attached while in flight. Parachutes are ram-air pressurised wings without rigid structure which strictly depend on flying through air to maintain their airfoil shape, and have no rigid attachment points either, rather they have suspension lines where the payload's relation to the wings changes significantly throughout the flight envelope. $\endgroup$
    – mathrick
    Jan 20, 2022 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ @mathrick I think that’s arguable; since a powered parachute typically has no fuselage it’s not clear what the wing isn’t fixed to. It’s reasonable to say that the aircraft is the wing, with a payload suspended below it. What constitutes a rigid structure is open to debate, not least in high-performance paraglider design. $\endgroup$
    – Frog
    Jan 20, 2022 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Frog: it's certainly fuzzy. I suppose a parachute has more in common with a Cessna than a Eurocopter does when it comes to how the lift is generated, but it has far less in common with it than a Eurocopter when it comes to just about everything else about the craft, including how it reacts to things like turbulence. By that definition, I'm a fixed-wing aircraft when I wingsuit, and I board another fixed-wing aircraft when I deploy my parachute :) $\endgroup$
    – mathrick
    Jan 20, 2022 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Frog, Yes, "if we are to say..." or as I mentioned, if the choice is binary and we are forced to choose. Because it definitely isn't a rotary wing. If I had a bunch of mammals, birds, and fish and had to put them in two categories I would group the mammals and birds together because they are both air breathing. But I would far rather group them in three distinct sets, wouldn't you?! It just makes way more sense... $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2022 at 2:20
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    $\begingroup$ Will you guys give me a break...? Sheesh! $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2022 at 5:02

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