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Can Your Airplane’s Wings Snap Off In Extreme Turbulence?


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Have you ever noticed the wings of your airplane wobbling about like crazy when you peer out of your plane window during episodes of extreme turbulence?

Watching bouncing wings is a nerve-racking experience for nervous flyers, and if you have an over-active imagination, you might have wondered whether the wing itself might snap off. In my head, it looks like just like a horrible snap is about to happen!

Let’s learn about the wing

To understand the wing, it is worth knowing what it is for. The wing has a number of functions: to create lift, to store fuel, and to hold the jet engines in place.

Most wings are made of aluminum because it’s lightweight, stiff, and strong. The Dreamliner 787 by Boeing is the first aircraft that uses composite materials like carbon fiber and glass fiber.

Aerospace-grade aluminum is MUCH stronger and stiffer than the aluminum used in cans or foil. This aluminum is an alloy and not a pure metal. It is this alloy mix that gives the wing its strength.

A “spar” runs along the length of the wing, and there are typically two spars By adding these spars, the wing designer increases the bending stiffness of the wing, which means that it’s harder for the wing to bend. These spars run all the way through the wing, from one tip to the other tip. These spars will prevent the wings from snapping off.

The two wings actually meet underneath the fuselage of the aircraft. The wings are attached to the fuselage on that wing box, which is the boxy bit that you see right at the bottom.

I still look at the wings in turbulence

I get the theory, but in the middle of turbulence, when I look out the window at that bouncing wing, I am still worried about it coming off the plane.

It’s almost impossible for the wing to snap off. The one thing that could cause them to snap off is bad maintenance, but if you fly Western Airlines, you needn’t worry about this because they have a highly refined maintenance procedure. Tests scan the entire plane structure for small faults to make sure any faults do not grow any bigger and cause catastrophic failure. Bottom line, the wings of a well-maintained plane can’t fall off.

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