In their most basic form, aircraft are vehicles capable of defying the force of gravity with the support of lift or through the use of thrust generated by jet engines. Coming in many shapes, sizes, and forms, the two most common categorizations that separate many aircraft types are whether they are fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft. With each category of aircraft presenting varying airframe structural components, flight capabilities, and common applications, it can be useful to have an understanding of the main differences between each.
Fixed-wing aircraft are those that rely on forward airspeed and the shape of their wings in order to generate the lift needed for flight. As heavier-than-air vehicles, aircraft fixed-wing types include airplanes, seaplanes, gliders, kites, and other similar variations. Airplanes serve as the most widely used form of fixed-wing aircraft, utilizing a jet engine, propeller assembly, or rocket engine
in order to generate forward thrust for movement. Depending on whether a fixed-wing airplane is used for commercial transportation, business, defense, or other applications, such vehicles may range in their size, shape, and wing configuration. The commercial aviation industry serves as one of the largest sectors of fixed-wing aircraft use, transporting over four billion passengers across the globe each year. When operating fixed-wing aircraft, one or two pilots are typically required unless the aircraft is a UAV type.
, also known as rotorcraft, are heavier-than-air aircraft that feature rotary wings or blades which are capable of producing lift as they revolve around a vertical mast. Similarly varying in size, shape, and construction, common aircraft rotary-wing types include helicopters, autogyros, and gyrodynes. Helicopters are one of the more popular types, utilizing horizontally-spinning rotors which are able to create the thrust and lift required for flight. With the design of helicopters and the configuration of their rotors and wing aviation parts, such aircraft are capable of conducting vertical take-offs and landings, hovering, and flying forward, backward, and laterally.
While there are numerous types of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft with varying characteristics, there are some common attributes that separate the two categories of aircraft from one another. While a rotary-wing aircraft
may be capable of conducting vertical take-offs and landings, most fixed-wing aircraft require the use of larger landing areas where they have the distance required to safely build lift or come to a stop. As such, rotary-wing aircraft can conduct operations in countless environments as compared to fixed-wing aircraft types. Furthermore, a rotary-wing aircraft’s ability to hover and their increased directional control enables flight in more congested areas such as a city. Despite these advantages, they are often limited in their speed and distance as fixed-wing aircraft
are often capable of traversing large amounts of area quickly and easily. Lastly, both aircraft types generate lift in a different way, fixed-wing aircraft utilizing forward movement and their wing shape to generate lift while rotary-wing aircraft typically produce their lift through pushing air downward with their rotor. With the various differences between each aircraft type, the choice will often depend upon one’s particular requirements or application.