Michael Imparata, of King's High School, asks :-

Why are planes all the same shape?

Jim Rankin, a physicist and Squadron Leader at the RNZAF's Central Flight School at Ohakea, responded.

The reason that all aircraft have similar shapes is the same as why most cars differ little in looks. A car needs wheels, a place for people to sit, a place for the engine and an overall shape that minimises air resistance. There are only a few ways of doing all those things together so most cars look basically alike.

Aircraft need wings to give lift, a fuselage to carry people and/or freight, engines for propulsion and a shape that allows it to travel through air fast and/or economically. Again, there are only a few ways of designing an aircraft to include all these requirements.

Another criteria for airplanes is that they must have surfaces which allow them to be steered. Most do this by using a tailplane and elevator, to go up and down, and a fin and rudder, which help to keep the airplane going straight. The fin is like the feathers on an arrow, and is always found at the back of the airplane. The elevator and tailplane can be at the back or front. The Wright Brother's Flyer had a 'tail' in front (called a 'canard'), and some modern aircraft still do but most have it at the tail.

Stealth aircraft have another requirement, to be nearly invisible to radar. They and some very modern aircraft aren't very stable and can only be flown with the help of computers which can react faster than humans can.

Future aircraft may be bigger and/or faster, but unless someone discovers some new way of creating lift for airplanes, or by a new way of propelling them through the air, the basic shape will not change much.