Why Do Backwards Wings Exist?

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Over the years, there have been many odd airplane designs, but one you probably haven’t seen much is the forward-swept wing. While most early aircraft featured straight wings, rear-swept wings are fairly common today, especially among commercial airliners. A rear-swept wing has its forward-most point at the root of the ring, where it attaches to the fuselage. The sweep breaks up the incoming flow into a chordwise component that flows from the leading edge to the trailing edge of the wing and a spanwise component that flows along the wing. Compared to straight wings, a swept wing provides better stability and control when flying at transonic speeds where shock waves can form on the wing (even though the plane itself is not supersonic).

The trouble with rear-swept wings is that when they stall, they do so from the wingtips inward. Since the ailerons that control the plane’s orientation are out near the wingtips, that’s a problem. Forward-swept wings were supposed to solve this issue because they would stall from the root outward. But they came with a whole new set of problems, which included the need for robust onboard computers controlling them constantly to keep them in stable flight. In the end, the disadvantages outweighed any gains and so, for the most part, the forward-swept wing design has seen little flight time. (Image and video credit: Real Engineering)

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