An aerospace engineer explains how a 'Star Wars' X-wing could fly in real life

The X-wing fighter has been used by rebels (and now Resistance fighters) in the “Star Wars” franchise since the very beginning.

Luke Skywalker used it to destroy the first Death Star, and Poe Dameron (the Resistance’s “best pilot”) leads his fleet of X-wing pilots to destroy the Starkiller Base in “The Force Awakens.”

These fighters are sleek, but are they realistic? One

Quora user took to the Q&A site to ask “What’s wrong with an X-wing aircraft in real life?” The user added: “Would one be able to fly? Would it be aerodynamic? Would it be easy to control?”

Jamie Gull, an aerospace engineer at SpaceX and Scaled Composites, answered all of the questions, assuming that the plane could fly in earth’s atmosphere. His answer explained that while the design could theoretically fly, it’s currently not aerodynamic. Here’s his full answer, published here with permission:

“First let’s assume you mean could it fly here on Earth in our atmosphere. Anything can fly in space in zero gravity with the right propulsion on it, even a brick.

  • “This basic design could fly. It’s similar to a blended wing body style plane, just with a big nose. With modern computer control it could be easily controlled. If we didn’t have those controls it would likely be extremely difficult to fly as it is not a naturally stable configuration without a tail or forward lifting surfaces. A naturally stable plane has is it’s aerodynamic center of pressure behind it’s center of gravity, so any deviation from straight flight tends to straighten out the trajectory. There are some military fighters and blended wing bodies that have their CG aft of the center of pressure and are therefore unstable, and they require fast computers to keep them flying straight, but fly well and are very manoeuvrable. No vertical stabilizers (fins) are required; computers can yaw the craft with differential drag and ailerons, and this has been proven in a number of stealth craft.
  • “It’s not a very aerodynamic design. All those intersections at the fuselage will create a ton of drag due to interfering aerodynamics. The engines and wingtip pylons are not helping in that regard either, as they are not well blended in. The wings are essentially a biplane configuration, which definitely works. The designer would need to take extra care near the fuselage due to the surfaces being so close together; their wakes would interfere with each other. Careful tuning could help turn this into somewhat of an advantage in slow flight. The square wing cross-section and all that hardware sticking out of the wing surfaces would need to get fixed to reduce drag but would work as-is. A flat airfoil can create lift at a non-zero angle of attack, it does not need to be a shaped foil. Flat surface lift is an into aerodynamics problem, even a pizza box can fly as a wing given the right propulsion and controls.”

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