Is elliptical wing superior to the regular profile in term of aerodynamics?

stoxm73

Airman
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Dec 29, 2018
Spitfire, P-35, and Re.2000 adopted the elliptical profile. Were their wings really able to reduce the drag, and consequently edged their rivals like bf-109?
 

GrauGeist

Generalfeldmarschall zur Luftschiff Abteilung
Solid discussion about elliptical wings found here:

 

swampyankee

Chief Master Sergeant
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Jun 25, 2013
Given a fixed span, planar wing, an untwisted elliptical wing will have the lowest induced drag, as it provides an elliptical lift distribution. The lift distribution is the important part, and at one condition a combination of twist and chord distribution can provide that elliptical distribution.

On the other hand, the Spitfire had a twisted wing with dihedral, so it did not have an elliptical lift distribution. The Spitfire's planform was to package guns and landing gear.
 

pbehn

Lieutenant Colonel
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Oct 30, 2013
The Spitfires wing was elliptical to contain the undercarriage and guns in a light weight and thin design.
 

Macandy

Senior Airman
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Aug 6, 2017
The marginal gain in performance was more than offset by the PITA of manufacturing.
Supermarine went to a regular wing for the Spitfires successor.
 

pbehn

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Oct 30, 2013
The marginal gain in performance was more than offset by the PITA of manufacturing.
Supermarine went to a regular wing for the Spitfires successor.
Yes, because by then they had 2,000+ BHP available, not the 660BHP the first Spitfires and Hurricanes had at take off. Quite simple really.
 

Glider

Captain
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Elliptical wings are theoretically the best for minimising induced drag. The downside is the cost of production.

I used to fly a Discus Glider and the basis of the design was an 'almost' elliptic wing. There was a slight swept back of the leading edge but basically it had the elliptic wing.

The Discus was that unusual blend of being a class leading design, that won a number of championships but was almost viceless to fly. This allowed inexperienced pilots to fly it and even today its performance is not to be sniffed at. It was always a joy to fly.

You can ponder over the similar comments often made about the Spitfire. The performance was always up there but it was fairly easy to fly compared to most of its competitors.
 

tomo pauk

Creator of Interesting Threads
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Apr 3, 2008
Elliptical wings are theoretically the best for minimising induced drag. The downside is the cost of production.
How much is the cost of production increased vs. some other type of wing (eg. like what Bf 109 used, or P-40, or Zero)? Obviously, I'm not asking for a strict number, rather a ballpark percentage.
 

pbehn

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I think much of this is due to language, the Spitfires wing was complicated to make AND it was elliptical. Many of the early problems making Spitfires were due to the spar design and having to disperse production and having to heat the guns and having to change the cooling system I am sure there were others too.
 

don4331

Airman 1st Class
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Aug 3, 2021
How much is the cost of production increased vs. some other type of wing (eg. like what Bf 109 used, or P-40, or Zero)? Obviously, I'm not asking for a strict number, rather a ballpark percentage.
How many are you making? What is technology available to you (airfoil, structure and construction)? What is your work force skilled at? How much space do I have to work in?

Aside questions: How much power do you have? What is the plane to be used for?

If I'm only building 100 Hurricane/year over next 3 years, my work force is skilled at building up airfoils using little wood pieces and Hurricane will be replaced by Tornado/Typhoon by year 4, one type of construction might be cheaper.

If I'm making 1,000 Mustangs/year for next 5 years, my work force is skilled at stamping sheet metal, and I have the whole back 40 in beautiful California sun, then another would be cheaper.
 

tomo pauk

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How many are you making? What is technology available to you (airfoil, structure and construction)? What is your work force skilled at? How much space do I have to work in?

Aside questions: How much power do you have? What is the plane to be used for?
Spitfire vs. the listed aircraft, mass production for all of them.
 

don4331

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Aug 3, 2021
Spitfire vs. the listed aircraft, mass production for all of them.
Pennies per airframe difference: the jigs and molds would be slightly more for elliptical planform and there would be slightly more waste (aluminium comes in rectangular sheets or roll)

As P pbehn notes: Spitfire's wing is expensive because is: a. complicated, b. elliptical & c. constantly changing. A & C are the cost killers. But that complicate spar allowed the Spitifre Mk. 1 to be light enough for a Merlin E, yet able to be strengthened for a Seafire 47.
 

pbehn

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Oct 30, 2013
Spitfire vs. the listed aircraft, mass production for all of them.
The Spitfire was designed before any war broke out and had to win a contract for initially 300 planes with a fixed pitch prop giving an effective 660 HP on take off. That gives you a different design to one made when war was declared, and everyone had 1000+ HP with CS props.
 

tomo pauk

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Pennies per airframe difference: the jigs and molds would be slightly more for elliptical planform and there would be slightly more waste (aluminium comes in rectangular sheets or roll)

My thought exactly.

As P pbehn notes: Spitfire's wing is expensive because is: a. complicated, b. elliptical & c. constantly changing. A & C are the cost killers. But that complicate spar allowed the Spitifre Mk. 1 to be light enough for a Merlin E, yet able to be strengthened for a Seafire 47.

My take is that ribs were also the labor-intensive parts. Instead of single-piece stamped items, they were built-up pieces.
 

tomo pauk

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The Spitfire was designed before any war broke out and had to win a contract for initially 300 planes with a fixed pitch prop giving an effective 660 HP on take off. That gives you a different design to one made when war was declared, and everyone had 1000+ HP with CS props.
In what respective wars were the US or Germany when the P-36 morphed into P-40 and when Bf 109 materialized, the later with all of it's 650 HP and a fixed prop?
 

pbehn

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Oct 30, 2013
My thought exactly.



My take is that ribs were also the labor-intensive parts. Instead of single-piece stamped items, they were built-up pieces.
How much will you spend on a press for 300 wings? What do you do if the wing changes?
 

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