Effect of Wing Planform

Understanding the effects of different wing planforms is important when learning about wing performance and airplane flight characteristics. A planform is the shape of the wing as viewed from directly above and deals with airflow in three dimensions. Aspect ratio, taper ratio, and sweepback are factors in planform design that are very important to the overall aerodynamic characteristic of a wing.

Different types of wing planforms

Aspect ratio is the ratio of wing span to wing chord. Taper ratio can be either in planform or thickness, or both. In its simplest terms, it is a decrease from wing root to wingtip in wing chord or wing thickness. Sweepback is the rearward slant of a wing, horizontal tail, or other airfoil surface.

There are two general means by which the designer can change the planform of a wing and both will affect the aerodynamic characteristics of the wing. The first is to effect a change in the aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is the primary factor in determining the three dimensional characteristics of the ordinary wing and its lift/drag ratio. An increase in aspect ratio with constant velocity will decrease the drag, especially at high angles of attack, improving the performance of the wing when in a climbing attitude.

A decrease in aspect ratio will give a corresponding increase in drag. It should be noted, however, that with an increase in aspect ratio there is an increase in the length of span, with a corresponding increase in the weight of the wing structure, which means the wing must be heavier to carry the same load. For this reason, part of the gain (due to a decrease in drag) is lost because of the increased weight, and a compromise in design is necessary to obtain the best results from these two conflicting conditions.

The second means of changing the planform is by tapering (decreasing the length of chord from the root to the tip of the wing). In general, tapering causes a decrease in drag (most effective at high speeds) and an increase in lift. There is also a structural benefit due to a saving in weight of the wing.

Most training and general aviation type airplanes are operated at high coefficients of lift, and therefore require comparatively high aspect ratios. Airplanes that are developed to operate at very high speeds demand greater aerodynamic cleanness and greater strength, which require low aspect ratios. Very low aspect ratios result in high wing loadings and high stall speeds. When sweepback is combined with low aspect ratio, it results in flying qualities very different from a more conventional high aspect ratio airplane configuration. Such airplanes require very precise and professional flying techniques, especially at slow speeds, while airplanes with a high aspect ratio are usually more forgiving of improper pilot techniques.

The elliptical wing is the ideal subsonic planform since it provides for a minimum of induced drag for a given aspect ratio, though as we shall see, its stall characteristics in some respects are inferior to the rectangular wing. It is also comparatively difficult to construct. The tapered airfoil is desirable from the standpoint of weight and stiffness, but again is not as efficient aerodynamically as the elliptical wing. In order to preserve the aerodynamic efficiency of the elliptical wing, rectangular and tapered wings are sometimes tailored through use of wing twist and variation in airfoil sections until they provide as nearly as possible the elliptical wing’s lift distribution. While it is true that the elliptical wing provides the best coefficients of lift before reaching an incipient stall, it gives little advance warning of a complete stall, and lateral control may be difficult because of poor aileron effectiveness.

In comparison, the rectangular wing has a tendency to stall first at the wing root and provides adequate stall warning, adequate aileron effectiveness, and is usually quite stable. It is, therefore, favored in the design of low cost, low speed airplanes.

Aviation Human Factors - The Dirty Dozen

Due to a large number of maintenance-related aviation accidents and incidents that occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Transport Canada identified twelve human factors that degrade people’s ability to perform effectively and safely, which could lead to maintenance errors. These twelve factors, known as the “dirty dozen,” were eventually adopted by the aviation industry as a straight forward means to discuss human error in maintenance. It is important to know the dirty dozen, how to recognize their symptoms, and most importantly, know how to avoid or contain errors produced by the dirty dozen. Understanding the interaction between organizational, work group, and individual factors that may lead to errors and accidents, AMTs can learn to prevent or manage them proactively in the future.

Lack of Communication

Lack of communication is a key human factor that can result in suboptimal, incorrect, or faulty maintenance. [Figure 1] Communication occurs between the AMT and many people (i.e., management, pilots, parts suppliers, aircraft servicers). Each exchange holds the potential for misunderstanding or omission. But communication between AMTs may be the most important of all. Lack of communication between technicians could lead to a maintenance error and result in an aircraft accident. This is especially true during procedures where more than one technician performs the work on the aircraft. It is critical that accurate, complete information be exchanged to ensure that all work is completed without any step being omitted. Knowledge and speculation about a task must be clarified and not confused. Each step of the maintenance procedure must be performed according to approved instructions as though only a single technician did the work.

Aviation Human Factors - The Dirty Dozen
Figure 1. Lack of communication

Aviation Human Factors - Human Error

Human error is defined as a human action with unintended consequences. There is nothing inherently wrong or troublesome with error itself, but when you couple error with aviation maintenance and the negative consequences that it produces, it becomes extremely troublesome. Training, risk assessments, safety inspections, etc., should not be restricted to attempt to avoid errors but rather to make them visible and identify them before they produce damaging and regrettable consequences. Simply put, human error is not avoidable but it is manageable. [Figure]

Safety awareness will help foresee and mitigate the risk of human error

Types of Errors


An unintentional error is an unintentional wandering or deviation from accuracy. This can include an error in your action (a slip), opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, or insufficient knowledge (a mistake). For example, an AMT reads the torque values from a job card and unintentionally transposed the number 26 to 62. He or she did not mean to make that error but unknowingly and unintentionally did. An example of an unintentional mistake would be selecting the wrong work card to conduct a specific repair or task. Again, not an intentional mistake but a mistake nonetheless.


In aviation maintenance, an intentional error should really be considered a violation. If someone knowingly or intentionally chooses to do something wrong, it is a violation, which means that one has deviated from safe practices, procedures, standards, or regulations.