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Airplane's Wing Detail - American Airpower Museum | Farmingdale, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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Artist's Description

A common misconception is that, to generate lift, a wing must have a longer air path across its topside compared with its underside. Wings with this shape are the norm in subsonic flight, but symmetrically shaped wings (above and below) can generate lift by using a positive angle of attack to deflect air downward. Symmetrical airfoils have higher stalling speeds than cambered airfoils of the same wing area but are used in aerobatic aircraft as they provide practical performance whether the aircraft is upright or inverted. Another example comes from sailboats, where the sail is a thin membrane with no path-length difference between one side and the other.

For flight speeds near the speed of sound (transonic flight), airfoils with complex asymmetrical shapes are used to minimize the drastic increase in drag associated with airflow near the speed of sound. Such airfoils, called supercritical airfoils, are flat on top and curved on the bottom.

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