Airfoil Types

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Figure depicts a very common general-aviation airfoil. Notice the flat underside of the shape, with the relatively large curvature along the airfoil’s upper surface. Visible among the various labels are leading edge, trailing edge, the chord, and the camber of the upper and lower surfaces of the wing. The leading and trailing edge definitions are self explanatory. Chord line has already been discussed. Camber refers to the curvature of the upper and lower surfaces of the airfoil shape.

Figure shows six airfoil designs. As you can see, the shape of these airfoils is very different, depending on the application the aircraft will be used for. Early airfoils had a great deal of camber on both the upper and lower surfaces of the wing, allowing flight at slow airspeeds, which was the best they could muster at the time. However, as aircraft performance increased, airfoil shapes underwent fairly radical design changes to best suit the airplane’s operating envelope. Aircraft engineers must pick airfoil designs and wing planforms that best suit the design criteria they need to meet. The result is usually some kind of practical compromise. Airplane wings optimized for high speeds usually have poor slow-flight characteristics, and vice-versa. The aid of mechanical devices, which change the airfoil’s shape, can do much to expand a wings’ possibilities, however.

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