Nasa / Space

Idiot sci-fi question: Why do X-Wing fighters have...um...wings?


X-wingsSo here's the idiotic science fiction question for the week: Why do X-Wing fighters have wings?

Officially, "The wings not only serve as stabilizer surfaces in air travel, but also distribute deflector shield energy and serve as weapons mounts."

Poppycock.

Clearly, the wings have nothing to do with aerodynamics, as there is nothing aerodynamic about 99% of the vessels in the Star Wars universe, and almost everything short of the Death Star makes controlled landfall and takeoff. (Seriously, how does the Millennium Falcon do it? It's a stunted frisbee! Eh, a question for another day...) As to the suggestion that the so-called "S-foils" are used to generate deflector shields, that doesn't explain how the other fighters in the Rebel fleet create defensive energy screens (well, maybe the B-Wing). It just doesn't add up.

Now, I grant you, looking for science in Star Wars is a largely a futile gesture (Parsecs are a unit of distance, not time!), but we can have fun trying, anyway. The Sci-Fi Apologist has an amusing wing-theory: The x-wings are really heat sinks for the high-powered laser cannons.

Cute, but I think we can do better. So, here's your assignment, boys and girls: What's the REAL reason X-Wing starfighters have wings? Let the theorizing begin!

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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

322 comments
soaponapope
soaponapope

i'd have to assume that fixed wing aircraft in space is for inner atmospheric flight, so when wedge's x-wing approaches Hoth from space he doesn't need the wings until he penetrates Hoth's atmosphere, at which point lift is generated by the wings and gravity. and take over for the propulsion engine. the same can be said about rotary, tracked vehicles like tanks and submersibles. in fact the x-wing would when in space only have to slightly burn the engine and then simply turn it off and simply let newton's first law of motion take over.


also , wings in space make the vehicle heavier, which means you need more energy to move it at any given velocity, which means you have to increase the fuel rate of consumption, which means you will have to stop, turn around and head back to refit sooner than you otherwise would've had to if it did not have wings. those useless wings are also sticking out there and begging to be smashed by a small asteroid. there are possible ways to get around this: be refueled mid-flight by another aircraft just as we do now, capture and mine asteroids for materials needed for rocket fuel or doing the same to comets for water

blackepyon01
blackepyon01

I'm no expert, but this is my theory. It looks cool, but that's not the only reason. If you don't add the wings, you basically get a roughly cigar shaped craft much like out current rockets. Anyone at NASA could tell you that those things are pretty hard to steer. While the wings don't do much for aerodynamics in space, they do add dimension which affects manuverability. Even if there's no air for the wings to react against, the simple fact that they are there and they have mass, will change how you maneuver your craft. They won't affect going straight forward, due to no air, but when doing those tight dogfight stunt turns, they'd give the craft a physical point on which to transfer momentum and corner upon. Even if it's only a minute one. Four engines and four wings in this case allows for much greater maneuverablilty than a cigar shaped craft with engines mounted at the back.

VAR1016
VAR1016

Off topic: in this "high-tech" location, why are WW-II- style ack-ack guns being used to attempt to shoot them down?

azbat
azbat

Check out the books ........... the mounts are able to be moved slightly, in doing so, the cannons mounted on them all have a common focal point for the energy. The max range is around 1km, so some pilots have a focal point of 0.5km, or 0.25km for the maximum damage concentration of the beams, whereas some other pilots have it extended out to 0.75km or 1km for maximum range. Take a quick look here ... http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/T-65_X-wing_starfighter and you will see the 'quad' fire part states they are able to fire a quad burst that will converge on the target.

venividivici2003
venividivici2003

MAybe they were just to make them look like aircraft and less than like a hamburger

niall.balmer
niall.balmer

There you go.X-Wings look cool,the wings look great when they open the S-Foils and it is a stylistic decision.Do we REALLY need look any further than that?

fletcher.khoo
fletcher.khoo

It's not about the cooling properties of heatsink... but the cool factor of that time to create a space-craft that is 'futuristic' of that era since no real planes comes in 'X' wings. and of cos the alphabet 'X' sounds cool. It's all about making a cool movie after all isn't it? (well since most people dont understand the science behind it)

DISCOBOB
DISCOBOB

Xwings need to land on planets and fight within an atmosphere. Why does the spce shuttle have wings?

olsonfamily
olsonfamily

Not that the concept artists was thinking this way... simple leverage. No air in space for wings to react with, so provide your own reaction. Placing thrusters along a wing surface might achieve more control. Other ships like Y-Wings might be more speed driven.

wpbapollo
wpbapollo

fuel storage...in an admosphere envirement wings not only create lift, they also store fuel, so even if you don't need wings for flight, you still have to put your fuel somewhere.

googlymoo2000
googlymoo2000

[post deleted by admin] Message was edited by: The Trivia Geek

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

By having the X Foils as they are called in Star Wars they spread out the weapons fire and allow a greater degree of damage to be inflicted on a target. Instead of 4 fairly localised areas of weapons impact they are spread out to cover a greater area and do more damage. Name just one Fighter aircraft with weapons hung together to inflict damage on an opposing fighter? There are not any since WW1 whee the Fokker's DR7 had two machine Guns mounted side by side firing thought the propeller. While effective on these early aircraft they whould have been an abject failure in latter wars so the armaments where spread out to allow the possibility of inflicting more damage and cripple of cut down an opposing aircraft. If you actually watch the Star Wars Movies the X Foils are always locked into a twin level position for landing either on a space craft of when making Planet fall and are only extended into the X Configuration when attacking. Col :p

tekless
tekless

Plus, 1) they need to fly in the atmosphere sometimes, and b) they need something for the bad guys to shoot off, yet still have several moments of hopeful suspense that perhaps Guy #6 won't really crash and burn.

kmays
kmays

These are needed simply for the time they have to maneuver inside the atmosphere.

boguscomputer
boguscomputer

The crystals for fueling the class 1 hyperdrive could be hazardous to human pilots in close proximity for long periods of time. Storing excess fuel at the wings' tips allows greater safety for these fighters' pilots.

mdhealy
mdhealy

The entire sequence where the fighters attack the Death Star is clearly based on old war movies. My father, a retired professor of US Diplomatic and Military History, tells me the way they operate is in all significant respects (including how they chat with each other on their radios during the attack) very closely following the Carrier Doctrine in which the US Navy trained its pilots during the Second World War.

ahmad_thd
ahmad_thd

Their is no need for balance as their is no gravity or air friction. They made them more visible and easy targets. If they were not the craft would behave like a bullet harder to hit. If I have to make a space war ship I would make its wings packable, only to be protuded when entering any planet with air surrounding it. It is my opinnion, yours may vary. Thanks for reading my opinnion.

frank
frank

Through time people have become accustomed that anything flying would need wings or a large propeller (helis...). It's fair to assume that when star wars was dreamt up, more thought would have been given to flying than to the vaccuum of space.

ka5s
ka5s

Moviemakers use familiar symbols and shapes for good guys and unfamiliar, alien ones or those we already associate with evil (Nazi, Communist, etc) for the bad guys. Always have.

sarge62436
sarge62436

Tactical Explanation: The S-foils provide a way to expand the fields of fire at close range during combat.... Marketing Explanation: The name "X-wing" was easier to sell to kids in 1977 than "S-foil" ...just my opinion....

Shaun.G
Shaun.G

Since we are discussing Sci Fi... What type of Sci Fi do you think that the characters of Sci Fi, in their respective times (eg 2200 or whatever their year is), do you think they will watch?

mba_lists
mba_lists

The reason Han Solo bragged about making the Kessel Run in fewer parsecs than anyone else is that since the Falcon has so much speed it could stay in hyperspace closer to gravity wells allowing it to take a shorter course to Kessel.

silveradocyn
silveradocyn

When the cannons fire they seem to have some type of muzzle blast. (Looks better in the movie that way.) The wings move the blast out of the line of site of the pilot. Also for turning, it would make sense to have vectored thrust that was off the centerline of the spacecraft. A 4 point box of thrusters would have advantages in dog fighting.

AMCooper63
AMCooper63

If anyone on this list flew model rockets. They'd know why X-Wing have wings. Estes Industries make model rockets for kids (little and big kids both) and it's a lot easier to make a rocket fly if it has wings. The X-wing was the only one that flew without change from the movie. Tie fighters, R2D2's etc all need extra appendages to make them fly. I'd heard rummor that do to the heavy licensing to Estes Industries that Estes did influence the design of the X-Wing. The best X-Wing is by NCR. It's actual size and flies terriffic.

rieken
rieken

It looks cool and George Lucas is neither a scientist or engineer. Dear George does things for cool not science and reality. Like most directors in Gollywood, he probably could not tell you the molecular formula for water. The guy just drinks the stuff. What do you expect from a guy that produces American graffiti? He's not a rocket scientist people, he just likes to tell absurb stories that have no bases in the real world. Star Wars is my favorite, right next the Japan's Godzilla. Because they are both absurb and fun to watch.

TCDood
TCDood

Let's think about this...Take away the wings, and you have a Cigar Shaped tube. If you try and turn, it would be near impossible to stop the turn, before you went around. Put on Wings, and you have changed your Moment..it now takes longer to turn, there by stablizing your rate of turn. I also agree that you need hard points to put weapons on. Cooling could also be a part of it...Although there is no air, there should still be thermal effects that would help dissapate the energy. But mostly, because they are cool!!

SBGGeorge
SBGGeorge

I don't want to get into the X-Wings debate, but one of the Star Wars books (sorry, I don't remember which one) did explain the parsecs thing. I assume you are talking about Solo's comment about making the Kessel Run in under x parsecs. If I remember correctly, the Kessel Run involves threading through a nasty stellar obstacle course, and Solo found the shortest route or something like that. Of course, that doesn't explain why Solo put that up as an indication of the speed of the Millenium Falcon, so in the end, the book's explanation is just poppycock too.

portable
portable

They have wings of any kind for one of 3 reasons, 1. Plantary atmosphere airfoils, 2. Mounts for weapons or defense, or 3. For the same reason you can hear the "roar" of an engine, or the sound of a laser IN SPACE! Yes, I'm cynical.

hshore0331
hshore0331

I think that is almost right, or right as far as it goes, but in careful examination of the video, you can see the energy blossom at the focal point. I believe that is caused by the mixing of the two or more energy signals of different frequencies to produce a third signal that is the destructive frequency. (heterodyn

senacharim
senacharim

So, an X-wing made of wood launched nose-up proves your point how exactly? Wait... did you even have a point?

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Where the foils on one side appeared to open while the other side remained closed. When the Left Hand Foils opened they sheared off and caused the crash. The ones furtherest away from the viewer on the video. Anyone get reminded of a F1-11? While I'm not sure about the Structure of the craft it seemed to lack any form of Structural Integrity and should be avoided at all costs. Though if the motors where in balance is debatable though as the craft continued to turn away from the detached foils which appears to be the sign of more thrust being delivered on one side and a lack on the other. The Russians had the same problem when they started their Space Program as well. Just my Opinion though. :D BTW What happened to your Site Alias? Col

intj-astral
intj-astral

Wings opening = it's time to kick some ass. Plain and simple. I remember the day the first version premiered in the 70's, when they opened up, it looked so good. There's a menacing kind of quality, like those lizards that spread their collar or the legs of a spider, for that matter. All the fabricated techno babble is fanboy squabble stuff. I agree the real genius of the the wings is, as you said, stylistic, and I'd add psychological. First impressions carry a lot of weight and man, did those wings impress me at first glance!

06028392
06028392

That was what I was thinking! We saw X-Wings fly in some planets' atmosphere in the Star Wars movies, so I am wondering how nobody took notice of it. It is a very plausible explanation although the most obvious is that they were designed this way for aesthetic reasons. So, that's not much of a valid question, its physics! :)

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

When they fly the X Wings in anything but attack the foils are parallel not in the X formation. If you watch any of the Star Wars Movies where they are attacking the Death Star the last order given to the Pilots is to [b]Lock Foils into Attack Position[/b] which is the X Formation. When in an atmosphere or landing normally the Foils are not in the X Formation but locked parallel to each other. Col

jbouley
jbouley

Bullets and vipers I'd feel bad about taking this thread off-topic if it hadn't already happened so many times. On that note... ...someone mentioned much earlier the whole equal and opposite reaction thing as a reason why "all" sci-fi vessels use energy weapons. Well, science and I only have a passing familiarity after a disastrous bout with Honors Chemistry in high school in the 80s, but it seems that projectiles would be small enough that their impact on the position and movement of even a snub fighter would be negligible. I offer as exhibit A the Vipers in modern-day Battlestar Galactica. Seems to me they are firing physical projectiles. (So, not "all" sci-fi ships rely on lasers and particle beams). Presumably, these projectiles are small and dense (spent uranium pellets perhaps) or armor-piering and slightly explosive. Even if one could argue that they generate enough force to push the fighter backward, the use of the main thrusters to drive the vessel would more than compensate. Furthermore, even in stationary position, it would seem simple enough to link weapons to engine such that a micro-burst of thrust could be used to counter any Newtonian impact from the bullets. And not to get all realistic and burst any bubbles, 'cuz I love sci-fi and space opera as much as the next geek, but wouldn't bullets be a lot more efficient in many ways than energy weapons? Sure, when you run out of bullets, you run out, but wouldn't a truly effective energy weapon be a rather huge drain on your fuel, even if you're operating a mini-fusion reactor behind that old cockpit? And really, how much firepower do you need to win in space? You don't need to vaporize an opponent, given that most pilots don't react well to having their cockpit venting into space, something a good armor piercing round is more than able to handle. Oh, yeah, deflector shields...good thing the Cylons don't have any. I guess even Teflon coating won't get a bullet through a deflector. ;-)

JamesRL
JamesRL

But last night I remembered another example. When the F4 Phantom II Jet was designed in the late 50s, everyone assumed that missles made dogfighting obsolete. So the plane's first version had no guns at all. During the early days of Vietnam, they discovered that the missles weren't as effective as they had hoped against small manoueverable dogfighters like the Mig 17. So they hung two pods, one off each wing, with guns. It didn't work out so well. They just weren't getting hits. In a later build they moved the guns to the fuselage. James

JamesRL
JamesRL

P38 Lightning Mosquito P61 Black Widow FW 190 BF 109 Of course many jets early and modern use this configuration. Me 262, Meteor, Mig 15, F86 Sabre etc. The guns grouped together has often been cited as a good thing when taking on well armoured planes like a bomber - concentration of fire being a good thing. It is also easier to aim, and doesn't require the process of aligning the guns - with the guns in the wing, they sighted them to converge at a point, and that point was argued about a lot - early spitfire pilots used to go out and manual adjust them from 400 yards convergence to something much closer. Put the guns in the nose and you don't have to worry. The P39 Airacobra had a cannon that fired through the hub of the prop. The early versions of the Meserscmhitt BF109 had MGs firing through the props and cannon on the wing. The FW 190 had guns on the fuselage, guns at the wing root (where the wing meets the fuselage) and cannons on the wing. Early models had problems with overheating engines where the ammo for the fuselage gund would overheat and cook off.... James

boo_yah68
boo_yah68

Sarge is right...the wings open to provide the greatest possible separation between each of the lasers to achieve a wider kill zone. If you've ever played the X-Wing video game, you can see 4 laser bursts in a converging pattern every time you pull the trigger, creating a field of fire that is as wide and tall as the ship itself.

andrew.perry13
andrew.perry13

Well, if the likes of Vernor Vinge are correct, by then mankind will have passed through the Singularity: that moment when the rate of progress becomes effectively infinite and technologies like AI and nanotech give us capabilities beyond anything we can imagine. Who knows what sort of literature beings uploaded/incorporated into exotic technology will enjoy? And if you extend the curve plotted by the rate of technological advances (however you choose to measure it) and assume it will follow the historical trend, it's going to be within the next few decades! Now that's far out!

Shaun.G
Shaun.G

If that were completely accurate, then surely every spaceship would use wings? Battlestar Galactica's Colonial Vipers had guns mounted alongside the main fusalage... so how does the muzzleblast theory take that into account?

m81orion
m81orion

... to take Mom shopping in!

mcarlson
mcarlson

This stellar obsticle course is a collection of black holes. The faster the ship travels the closer it can get to the event horizon of the black holes and still escape. The faster the ship the shorter the distance.

artboy
artboy

...and the gun issue is correct, I remember reading that. That's still my all-time fave plane, though. What a brute, super fast, tons of armament, butt ugly.

Shaun.G
Shaun.G

Well... given that the world is in a state of constant war... that the ozone is being devoured... and we have global warming... I think that technolgy will die out first... there is not enough resources world wide to sustain the world for such a venture.

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