How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 1266

Why are swept wings preferred for transonic/supersonic flight, but not for lower speeds? — CL
While the designers of low speed planes focus primarily on lift and drag, designers of high speed planes must also consider shock waves—pressure disturbances that fan out in cones from regions where the plane's surface encounters supersonic airflow. The faster a plane goes, the easier it is for the plane's wings to generate enough lift to support it, but the more likelihood there is that some portions of the airflow around the plane will exceed the speed of sound and produce shock waves. Since a transonic or supersonic plane needs only relatively small wings to support itself, the designers concentrate on shock wave control. Sweeping the wings back allows them to avoid some of their own shock waves, increasing their energy efficiencies and avoiding shock wave-induced surface damage to the wings. Slower planes can't use swept wings easily because they don't generate enough lift at low speeds.

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