Updated: May 15
Here at Axiom Aviation, a common question our CFI's get asked is, what is the difference between high-wing and low-wing airplanes? To properly answer this question, we must first examine history to grasp the basic origins of these airplane designs.
The Emergence of the Monoplane
In the early days of aviation, countless airplane designs were tested, many failed, but a few succeeded. One of the first successful airplane designs was that of the bi-plane. These planes incorporated a high and low wing. They did so because the materials used to create airplanes at the time were not strong enough to support the weight of an airplane's fuselage with wings long enough to generate sufficient lift. In other words, if the wings were too long, they would snap. On the other hand, short wings did not generate enough lift to sustain flight.
The solution to this problem was to add more wings. While wings were still short, the planes could generate about twice as much lift with two sets of wings. However, when aluminum became a common component in aircraft design, it became much more feasible for airplanes to fly on just one set of wings. Airplanes with only one set of wings are also known as monoplanes. With this new development, aircraft manufacturers began designing and building various aircraft designs.
The two most popular wing mount designs included the low-wing design, where the wings are attached at the bottom of the fuselage, and the high-wing design, which features the wings mounted on the top of the fuselage. Both designs have persisted for decades and show no sign of going away despite incredible advancements in aviation technology. But which one is better, and how does wing placement affect flight?
Two Similar Designs
At first glance, a high-wing and a low-wing airplane may look very different. However, in actuality, they tend to behave very similarly in the air. While differences exist, most of the flight characteristics between comparable low-wing and high-wing aircraft are the same.
An airplane is an airplane. At the end of the day, flight fundamentals and physics are the same despite the difference in the wing position.
But let's focus on the differences keeping in mind that these differences tend to be relatively minor. We will focus on the differences between small single-engine airplanes such as the high-wing Cessna 172s, which we primarily fly here at Axiom Aviation, and the low-wing Piper PA-28 series (Cherokee, Warrior, Archer, Arrow, etc…).
Different Design, Different Flight Characteristics
When cruising at high speed, these airplanes tend to have nearly identical flight characteristics from the pilot's perspective. The differences tend to present themselves more when the aircraft is being flown at low speeds, such as when it is taking off, on approach to land, or landing. Remember that there are always exceptions to these design characteristics, as each aircraft design is unique.
High-wing airplanes tend to be a bit more stable and forgiving. If the plane is put in an undesired attitude, such as what could happen with turbulence or wind shear, it will tend to correct itself easier than a low-wing airplane would. Low-wing airplanes tend to be a bit more slippery. This means that more rudder input is needed when making turns, and it is easier to over-correct with the rudder.
While high-wing aircraft tend to be a bit more stable, low-wing aircraft tend to be more aerodynamic and maneuverable.
Most airliners have a low-wing design to make them more efficient as they are more aerodynamic.
Fighter jets also tend to have a low-wing design, enabling them to be more maneuverable.
Which Makes For a Better Trainer Aircraft?
To those just getting into aviation that are looking at what school to choose, it is important to look at what planes they fly and have an idea as to how they stack up against other popular training aircraft. The best way to do this is to know the exact model of aircraft different schools fly and research them. However, if you are curious about what is better for flight training, a high-wing or a low-wing, the answer is that they both make good trainers.
As trainer airplanes, both designs offer a few unique advantages. The high-wing design offers excellent stability. The low-wing design also provides great stability but tends not to be as stable as high-wing airplanes. However, this is not entirely bad as it requires a little more input on flight controls during maneuvers helping students further develop their piloting skills.
At the end of the day, both designs behave very similarly and are a ton of fun to fly. Whatever you fly, do everything you can to master that aircraft. While you will never truly master any aircraft, it is essential that pilots work to become the best pilots of their aircraft that they can be. But don't limit yourself to one aircraft; whenever the opportunity to fly another arises, take it as you never know what you will learn.
Remember that there is always something more to learn, as a good pilot is always learning.
Have questions about the difference between high-wing and low-wing airplanes? Or want to learn more about flight training? Give us a call or send us a text at (262)AX-PILOT. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org