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A wing is a surface used to produce lift for flight through the atmosphere - or occasionally through another gaseous or fluid substance. Another word for an artificial wing is an airfoil, and airfoils always have a distinctive cross-sectional shape.

The word "wing" for many centuries (reportedly) referred only to the foremost limbs of birds, but the meaning of "wing" has been extended in recent centuries to include the wings of insects, bats, pterosaurs, and aircraft. The term "wing" has also been applied to an inverted airfoil that is used to generate a downward force on a race car to increase its traction in automobile racing.

The various species of penguins and their close relatives (such as auks) of flightless birds are avid swimmers, and they use use their (rather small) wings to swim through seawater.

A wing's aerodynamic quality is expressed as its lift-to-drag ratio. The lift generated by a wing at a given speed and angle of attack can be one to two orders of magnitude greater than the total drag on the wing. A high lift-to-drag ratio means that a significantly smaller thrust can be applied to the aircraft to propel its wings through the air and obtain the desired lift.


Design features

Aircraft wings may feature some of the following:

  • A rounded leading edge cross-section
  • A sharp trailing edge cross-section
  • Leading-edge devices such as slats, slots, or extensions
  • Trailing-edge devices such as flaps or flaperons (combination of flaps and ailerons)
  • Ailerons (usually near the wingtips) to roll the aircraft clockwise or counterclockwise about its long axis
  • Spoilers on the upper surface to disrupt the lift and to provide additional traction to an aircraft that has just landed but is still moving.
  • Vortex generators to help prevent flow separation in transonic flow
  • Wing fences to keep flow attached to the wing by stopping boundary layer separation from spreading
  • Winglets to keep wingtip vortices from increasing drag and decreasing lift
  • Dihedral, or a positive wing angle to the horizontal. This gives inherent stability in the roll direction. Anhedral, or a negative wing angle to the horizontal, has a destabilizing effect
  • Folding wings allow more aircraft to be carried in the confined space of the hangar deck of an aircraft carrier.
  • Variable-sweep wing or "swing wings" (in the jargon) to allow outstretched wings during low-speed flight (i.e. take-off and landing) and swept back wings for high-speed flight (including supersonic flight), such as in the F-111 Aardvark, the F-14 Tomcat, the Panavia Tornado, the MiG-23 the MiG-27, and the B-1B Lancer warplanes.

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