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Aircraft Wing Contents

Providing lift is the main function of the wings of an aircraft. The wings consist of two essential parts. The internal wing structure, consisting of spars, ribs and stringers, and the external wing, which is the skin.
Ribs give the shape to the wing section, support the skin (prevent buckling) and act to prevent the fuel surging around as the aircraft manoeuvres. They serve as attachment points for the control surfaces, flaps, undercarriage and engines. The ribs need to support the wing-panels, achieve the desired aerodynamic shape and keep it, provide points for conducting large forces, add strength, prevent buckling, and separate the individual fuel tanks within the wing. There are many kinds of ribs. Form ribs consist of a sheet of metal, bent into shape. Plate-type ribs consist of sheet-metal, which has upturned edges and weight-saving holes cut out into it. These ribs are used in conditions of light to medium loading. Truss ribs consist of profiles that are joined together. These ribs may be suitable for a wide range of load-types. Closed ribs are constructed from profiles and sheet-metal, and are suitable for closing off sections of the wing. This rib is also suitable for a variety
of loading conditions. Forged ribs are manufactured using heavy press-machinery, and are used for sections where very high loads apply. Milled ribs are solid structures, manufactured by milling away excess material from a solid block of metal, and are also used where very high loads apply. The stringers on the skin panels run in the length of the wing, and so usually need to bridge the ribs. There are several methods for dealing with this problem. The stringers and ribs can both be uninterrupted. The stringers now run over the rib, leaving a gape between rib and skin. Rib and skin are indirectly connected, resulting in a bad shear load transfer between rib and skin. The stringers can be interrupted at the rib. Interrupting the stringer in this way certainly weakens the structure, and therefore extra strengthening material, called a doubler, is usually added. Naturally, the stringers can also interrupt the rib. The stringers now run through holes cut into the rib, which also causes inevitable weakening of the structure.
The ribs also need to be supported, which is done by the spars. These are simple beams that usually have a cross-section similar to an I-beam. The spars are the most heavily loaded parts of an aircraft. They carry much more force at its root, than at the tip. Since wings will bend upwards, spars usually carry shear forces and bending moments.
Aerodynamic forces not only bend the wing, they also twist it. To prevent this, the introduction of a second spar seems logical. Torsion now induces bending of the two spars, which is termed differential bending. Modern commercial aircrafts often use two-spar wings where the spars are joined by a strengthened section of skin, forming the so-called torsion-box structure. The skin in the torsion-box structure serves both as a spar-cap (to resist bending), as part of the torsion box (to resist torsion) and to transmit aerodynamic forces.

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