Amy’s Aviation: In Shape for Flight

What makes up a plane?

In Shape for Flight: Fact File!

Over the years designers have been working to change the design of planes to make them faster, lighter and importantly, more fuel efficient!

Using less fuel doesn’t just save money, it’s better for the planet.  It’s calculated that every year, 689 million tonnes of Co2 are released by all the aircraft in the skies.  And the lighter something is, the less fuel it needs.

Plus the lighter it is the faster it may be able to go.  Think of it like this – it’s a lot easier to run for the bus when you’re not carrying a heavy schoolbag!  Let’s check out where some of the biggest changes have been made…


SAMSUNGMost aircraft wings will have a curved top.  This is to create the lift that keeps it in the air.

If you look at older prop planes – that’s planes with propellers such as the Spitfire, you’ll notice that the wings are stuck more squarely on the side of the plane.  More recently one of the biggest improvements in the design was to make the wings sweep back so that they were at more of an angle, kind of like a V shape on the plane.  This shape is called “swept wing”, and makes the plane more aerodynamic.

You might have heard the word “aerodynamic” – it means a shape that cuts through the air easily, like a frisbee.  “Drag” is the name given to the air pushing against something in flight.  It takes more energy to push through the drag, as you might know if you’ve walked into heavy wind!

So being aerodynamic helps aircraft be more fuel efficient.  In the future, planes may have “morphing” wings which change their very shape as the plane is in flight!  These are already used on some military aircraft.


Just like modern cars are designed to be more and more efficient, well, the same is true of aircraft engines.

aircraft-engineAs well as looking how the engine is built, engineers also have to weigh up what’s most important. You see, it’s possible to make a plane more efficient by placing the engines inside the fuselage instead of under the wings.  Perfect for a modern military jet but the trouble is, on a passenger plane, this means there wouldn’t be room for the passengers!


One of the biggest changes to aircraft design in the last few decades has been the materials used to construct them.  It doesn’t matter how aerodynamic your plane is, if it weighs too much then it won’t get off the ground in the first place!

Designers will be looking for the lightest strongest materials with which to build the structure – and in the modern world there are more to choose from things like aluminium, carbon fibre and composites which are materials made up of more than one thing.


dreamliner-yoke-controls2Everything was mechanical on the earliest planes with rods and levers controlling how the plane flies.

Today computers take on a lot of the jobs that would have been done by machinery.  It’s called “Fly by Wire” and helps make aircraft lighter, and the lighter they are the less fuel they need – all of which makes them in great shape to keep you in the air!

Click here to find out more about planes!


Amy Aviation with support from the Royal Aeronautical Society. Click here to find out more.