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4 Differences Of Learning To Fly A High Wing Vs. Low Wing Aircraft

Chances are you'll fly both types in your aviation career. So what are the differences? Here are 4 of the biggest ones...

1) Sight Picture

What you see out the window when switching between planes will always be different, but high and low wing aircraft have some key differences. For maneuvers like steep turns, turns around a point, or steep spirals that require visual reference points, you'll need to get an idea of what to look for since the wing might obstruct your reference points.

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2) Elevator Characteristics

When stalling a conventional tail, high wing plane, airflow from the wing can interfere with the elevator as the airflow becomes more turbulent (as you get closer to a stall). This interference can cause airframe buffeting, indicating that you are approaching a stall.

In a low wing airplane, this buffeting may not be as pronounced, since some (or most) of the downwash from the back of the wing flows under the horizontal stabilizer.

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3) Ground Effect

Low wing planes experience a more pronounced ground effect. This changes the way you land your plane: specifically when and how you round out. But first, why do low wing aircraft float more in ground effect?

Low wing planes float more because they enter ground effect earlier. Ground effect starts when you're within 1 wingspan of the ground, and becomes very noticeable when you're within 1/2 of a wingspan of the ground.

Since low wing planes have wings that are closer to the ground (assuming you aren't inverted!) you'll enter ground effect earlier, causing you to float more.

Since you float more in a low wing aircraft, you may need to pick aim points and touchdown points that are further apart (possibly an extra 1/2 to 1 stripe) in order to make your intended touchdown point.

4) Fuel

High wing planes have the benefit of gravity to provide fuel pressure, but in a low wing configuration, the only way to pressurize fuel is with a fuel pump (though many high wing planes have fuel pumps too). A boost pump is generally utilized for startup, takeoff, landing, and sometimes even during cruise flight (check your POH).

If you aren't already using the G-U-M-P-S check before landing, now is the perfect time to start using it!

  • Gas: Fuel Selector, Fuel Pump
  • Undercarriage: Landing Gear is down and locked
  • Mixture Lever: Landing setting
  • Prop Lever: Full forward
  • Seatbelts and Switches: Seats are upright and locked, your seatbelt is fastened, and the appropriate switches are in the 'on' position (landing light, etc.)

What's the biggest difference you notice between flying high wing and low wing aircraft? Which one do you like better? Tell us in the comments below.

Nicolas Shelton

Nicolas is a private pilot from Southern California. He is currently studying at Purdue University, where he is working on advanced pilot ratings. You can reach him at nicolas@boldmethod.com.

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