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December 13, 2005 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Can a B-Wing fly?

There's a spaceship thats part of the Star Wars Universe called the B-wing. Its got a funky shape that I love, but am curious about: Could it actually fly in an atmosphere?

Pictures here:
(note the sleek profile, "resting" profile)

resting 1

resting 2

Here's the "History" of the craft ala Star Wars


However the wings can fold "out" and the body can rotate around the crew cabin for an attack position, see here:

Going to attack position

attack 1

attack 2

attack

More complete series of pictures here.

Could it work? If so it wouldn't be too maneuverable, right? Would the swinging body cause a lot of drag? Would this design even be feasible?
posted by anonpeon to Technology (29 answers total)
 
If properly designed, it could work, but I doubt it would be a good way to make an aircraft.

What you'd essentially be building is a Flying wing with an inherent center of gravity issue.

I doubt very much it could be made to fly in the position wherein the longest "wing" is vertical. This orientation would simply have too much drag for the lift it would most likely be capable of generating with the two stubby wings.

IANAAE (I am not an aeronautic engineer)
posted by phrontist at 2:11 PM on December 13, 2005


Oh, and I might add that you'd really have to force this thing to work, and it's the silliest idea ever, the product of a mind that thought side-swipe transitions were a good cinematic device.
posted by phrontist at 2:13 PM on December 13, 2005


Fly in space or fly in the earth's atmosphere? Big difference. I'm not even a railroad engineer but a brick will fly in outer space.
posted by Carbolic at 2:14 PM on December 13, 2005


With enough thrust, properly vectored, anything can "fly" (in an atmosphere).

(Not that either of those two requirements is trivial...)
posted by LordSludge at 2:16 PM on December 13, 2005


phrontist writes "it's the silliest idea ever"

I don't know. I think it's cool that the designers took advantage of the fact that things shaped very much unlike airplanes can be maneuvered perfectly well in space.

Compare Boba Fett's ship.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:20 PM on December 13, 2005


In atmosphere? No. In space? Sure. In atmosphere with Star Wars style antigrav? Yes. Don't expect it to fly well however.
posted by longbaugh at 2:27 PM on December 13, 2005


Everything "flys" in space! Moving in space is, by definition "flying".

"Flying" implies lift. Tying a rocket to a big ball of THX-1138 tapes does not make it fly, it makes it a dangerous projectile (who knows where it could land, someone might watch those!).
posted by phrontist at 2:40 PM on December 13, 2005


I don't know. I think it's cool that the designers took advantage of the fact that things shaped very much unlike airplanes can be maneuvered perfectly well in space.

Argh. It would not manuever any better in space than a big rock with a vectored thrust system.
posted by phrontist at 2:41 PM on December 13, 2005


hey phrontist... didn't Lucas steal the swipes (and a lot more) from Kurosawa?
posted by hartsell at 2:48 PM on December 13, 2005


I always imagined that vehicles in the Star Wars universe do not fly in the same way that airplanes do. They do not use or need wings to provide lift for them to fly. Everything uses some kind of anti gravity technology or something. For example Luke's speeder does not fly but "floats" just above the ground and that ship thing that Jabba had in ROTJ that they were travelling on in the desert on the way to execute Luke
posted by Justin Case at 3:24 PM on December 13, 2005


Like others have noted, with enough thrust that shape could be made to "fly" in atmosphere. It doesn't look like it has re-routable engines ala VTOL aircraft which would make it a lot more plausible.

Because of its radical design and numerous weapons, the B-wing is notoriously difficult to handle. Only the most skilled pilots can even attempt to control the craft.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:27 PM on December 13, 2005


I don't know. I think it's cool that the designers took advantage of the fact that things shaped very much unlike airplanes can be maneuvered perfectly well in space.

Why? The design makes no sense at all. What benefit is there to the funky shape?

Because of its radical design and numerous weapons, the B-wing is notoriously difficult to handle. Only the most skilled pilots can even attempt to control the craft.

So... why on earth would they make it then?

---

Anyway, as long as you could weigh it so that it was 'balanced' in the air, I don't see why it would be a problem, although it would be really funky.

I think it could also fly in 'attack' mode as long as it was flying fast enough for those small wings to provide enough lift.
posted by delmoi at 3:44 PM on December 13, 2005


Note the way that X-wings and the Falcon take off. That's antigrav, pure and simple.
posted by Guy Smiley at 3:45 PM on December 13, 2005


Just as a side-note to this conversation, the German war machine did develop a number of assymetric airplanes during WW2. These didn't see action because they looked funny, not because they didn't fly.

Burt Rutan has also developed an assymetric design.

None of these are as lopsided as a B-wing, of course.
posted by adamrice at 3:46 PM on December 13, 2005


>Can a B-Wing fly?

Depends on your assumptions

>Could it actually fly in an atmosphere?

I don't know how it was used in the movies. In real life you would have trouble because it is asymetrical and appears to have very little wing for its size. It would not have the same amount of drag on the left and right sides (they have different surface areas) so when moving it would always tend to turn towards the draggier side.

If that big square thing with the vanes is some kind of jet/rocket engine you would have more problems because your center of thrust appears to be off from your center of mass, so every time you use the engine it also will try to tun towards the heavier side.

If built with current technology, using jet engine(s), using a curved wing to generate lift, traveling in an atmosphere, it would be a flying death trap. Given enough power you could get it off the ground. Anything will fly if you have enough power. Once off the ground it would be inherently unstable, incapable of gliding, and would be lost the moment your avionics or engine hicupped.

Of course, a B-wing isn't produced by our technology, it comes from a higher one, so what would make it work? In vacuum its bumpiness and lack of symetry don't have to matter. You would need an A.I. that handled nothing but thrust calculations. There would have to be a way to continually balance and change the thrust relative to the center of mass, something not visible on the models.

Current airplanes are usually a compromise between agility and stability. Farthest out on the agility end are some fighter aircraft that are so delicately balanced that the pilots have continual computer assistance to help them fly the plane. The good thing about such designs is they manuver very well.

Over at the stability end of the spectrum are the big passenger liners, your Airbus, your 747 type planes. They are lousy at manuvering, but the minute you take your hand off the stick they will naturally tend to go into straight and level flight.

Let's assume the B wing has attitude thrusters, or ducted thrust, or something we haven't invented yet, and computers that manage them from second to second. Now you have a craft that will fly in a straight line while under power.

You still have a craft with a very broad and irregular forward surface area. This will create drag and limit your speed and manuverability while in atmosphere. This would suggest that while it can transit atmosphere, function in it somewhat, it is not designed primarily to work in it, that it is native to vacuum.

If you put a small thruster at the end of each of those long booms they would have good leverage and be able to turn the craft quickly. Once you have it pointed where you want it, the main engine (that squarish thing?) would take you there in a hurry.

So yes, in the Star Wars universe I would say it could be a decent low orbital fighter, able to carry the fight down into atmosphere if it had to. I would also guess that the moment you lost your A.I., it would become an unmanageable flying coffin, too unstable for any mere human to manage.
posted by Ken McE at 4:24 PM on December 13, 2005


Interesting perspectives here. I don't have much to add other than a followup to adamrice's post. I hadn't known Rutan had made an asymmetric plane, so I looked it up, and thought others might appreciate a link to Burt Rutan's Boomerang, which is very much more symmetric than a B-wing.
posted by JMOZ at 4:32 PM on December 13, 2005


>>Because of its radical design and numerous weapons,
>>the B-wing is notoriously difficult to handle. Only the
>>most skilled pilots can even attempt to control the
>>craft.

>So... why on earth would they make it then?

We have planes like that now. They are difficult because they are delicately balanced. This means that they turn quickly and well, but you have to be good enough to *not* turn them by accident, or other than how you meant to.

The Star Wars universe doesn't seem to have much in the way of mentally enhanced humans, so you would still have the same problems of pilot overload that you get today.

Besides steering, and fighting, and planning a few moves ahead, and knowing your manuverablitiy and weapons limits as compared with what you are up against, you would also have that whole adjustable shape thing to deal with.
posted by Ken McE at 4:34 PM on December 13, 2005


I think it could also fly in 'attack' mode as long as it was flying fast enough for those small wings to provide enough lift.

I don't know, as you get faster that big honkin' "wing"-ish section would create immense drag. You would need a lot of power to overcome that, and the resulting turbulence and such could have serious negative effects on it's stability.
posted by phrontist at 4:42 PM on December 13, 2005


delmoi writes "Why? The design makes no sense at all. What benefit is there to the funky shape? "

Sorry; I wasn't talking about design from a practical aerospace engineering point-of-view. I just think it looks neat. I mean, it is only a movie, right?
posted by mr_roboto at 5:03 PM on December 13, 2005


Thank you for responding.

Judging from the Star Wars movies, they rely more on antigravity as opposed to lift, so the short wings aren't a big.

It was designed to be a heavy assult craft, capable of taking on large spaceships, so it primarily "flys" in space.

I've a couple of Star Wars video games using the ship and it IS slow, kinda like a flying rock, but it packs a lot of firepower and can take a lot of damage.

The rotating wing design is an odd feature. According to offical Star Wars propaganda:

The B-wing's command pod has a unique gyroscopic control system. The pilot can orient it so that it always stays level with a pre-designated horizon line. No matter which way the B-wing may maneuver laterally, its pilot remains upright.

Is keeping the pilot leve really that important, especially in space. Would it reduce gforces or some such. If so, how?
posted by anonpeon at 5:43 PM on December 13, 2005


I am an aerospace engineer, and intuitively I say a qualified "no". I'd like to have more information such as weight of the B-Wing, dimensions of the wings, type of airfoil used for the wings, engine type (Four Slayn & Korpil JZ-5 Fusial Thrust Engines, Quadex Kyromaster Engine, or another unknown type), and variant of B-wing (B-Wing, B-Wing Expanded, or B-Wing Enhanced Model 2) before I would say a definite "no".

Could it fly in an atmosphere? Well, what kind of atmosphere? I assume you mean could it fly in Earth's atmosphere at standard temperature and pressure? I say not likely, but I'd like to have some more information before I would say definitely not.
posted by Fat Guy at 6:02 PM on December 13, 2005


With enough thrust, anything can fly.

Not necessarily fly well, or even controlled, but it will be in the air.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:23 PM on December 13, 2005


"What benefit is there to the funky shape?"

What benefit is there to an aerodynamic shape, if there's no atmosphere to fly in? Witness the Borg Cube. There's no need to be aerodynamic, so why not a cube/lopsided wing?
posted by CrayDrygu at 9:12 PM on December 13, 2005


so why not a cube/lopsided wing?

A few reasons:

a) It's best to present a minimum profile to your target in order to minimize the number of successful incoming shots

b) It's important to chose a shape that, while minimizing profile, provides a maximum amount of surface area for guns to be mounted upon.

Consider what a Star Destroyer looks like coming at you dead-on - control tower aside it's dead perfect for the foregoing requirements. If I remember my Star Wars trivia correctly this was intentional.

Another consideration: in order to maximize turning speed, it is critical to mount maneuvering thrusters as far from the center of the mass as possible, in order to maximize torque.
posted by Ryvar at 12:52 AM on December 14, 2005


I'm with Civil Disobedient. These things presumably have power plants that could run all of Belgium and still have juice left over to brew a pot of tea with its laser cannons. They also probably have reactionless thrust generators that could move a mountain.

Could your B-wing expect to have level flight just from applying some gentle aft thrust, using the Bernoulli effect on its airfoil? No. But check out the SR-71 Blackbird. That thing is not using very much Bernoulli effect - it's basically a pair of rockets with a cockpit and some control surfaces attached. (It's also a real-world example of a plane that was so difficult to control, even the most skillful pilots managed to vector it into the ground on a regular basis.)

The thing about the B-wing that makes it silly is that its lateral asymmetry means that one side (probably the right) is going to generate more lift than the other, so it's going to want to roll, and there's going to have to be something countering that if it wants to fly flat in a straight line.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:18 AM on December 14, 2005


An even better example of a plane that should not reasonably be able to fly is the F-117A (Stealth Fighter). It was dubbed "the hopeless diamond" because of it's radical shape, and Ben Rich (head of the Skunk Works team for the F-117) said during development that "the airplane would be so deficient in lift-drag ratio that it would probably need a computer the size of Delaware to get it stable and keep it flying."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:44 PM on December 14, 2005


It was dubbed "the hopeless diamond" because of it's radical shape, and Ben Rich (head of the Skunk Works team for the F-117) said during development that "the airplane would be so deficient in lift-drag ratio that it would probably need a computer the size of Delaware to get it stable and keep it flying."

So what happened, how come it can fly?
posted by anonpeon at 1:21 PM on December 19, 2005


They shrank Delaware.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:32 PM on December 19, 2005


What did they do with the population once they shrank it?
posted by anonpeon at 10:33 AM on December 20, 2005


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