I agonized over this for a very long time before I bought my first airplane. It seems to be one of those endless hangar discussions that divides pilots into one of three camps that almost serves as a form of introduction. And so, “Hi, my name is Dan, I’m a high-wing guy. How about you? Oh, you like low wing aircraft because you can see the numbers as you turn base to final? Yeah, that’s cool but I really like how I can see more of the view underneath me as I’m cruising along.” That’s the usual kickoff starting the debate between two camps, one we’ll call high wing believers versus the other camp we’ll call low wing believers.
Not to be forgotten, there’s a smaller, third camp which I’ve come to call the any-wingers. These are pilots who will enter the conversation with a wonderfully flexible attitude. They’ll fly anything, even biplanes and even the less common mid-wing aircraft, which includes many warbirds and gliders. But, as I said, this is a much smaller group and not one that was helpful in my airplane buying decision.
When the time came for me to shop for the plane I did some serious research. Even though I had trained in both low- and high-wing aircraft, I hadn’t developed much of a preference based on my limited experience and therefore I asked some CFIs and other pilots what they thought. Not very helpful as I encountered those two camps of believers everywhere I went. Some opinions were pretty strong.
I took to the literature for some advanced research, or at least back to basics research. A brief overview of The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge didn’t help much. While it provided basic descriptions of the design differences between various configurations it did little to give me any guidance as to what I should buy. Likewise, The Airplane Flying Handbook. No luck there either.
No surprise that the whole high-wing vs low-wing debate also carries over to YouTube with lots of videos and lots of opinions.
I abandoned the idea of putting together a pros and cons list. There were too many strong opinions even including some seemingly out-of-the-box considerations like high-wing aircraft cause head injuries when the pilot or passenger walks into the trailing edge of the wing. Or, which plane offers better survival odds in a water ditching.
Anyway, while at the beach a few years ago, I watched the shore birds and thought, is there anything more beautiful than birds gently flying overhead? And, I noticed that they’re all high-wing aircraft. As a matter of fact, the more I looked into it the more obvious it became. Mother Nature doesn’t make any low-wing aircraft. None. The entire avian class appear to be high-wings. Even flightless birds like penguins have their wings attached above the fuselage.
Now I was really on a roll towards guidance in the high-wing or low-wing decision. If Mother Nature favored high-wings in her own creations, who was I to argue? Additionally, everywhere I looked in the animal kingdom, even mammals have high-wing aircraft—bats and flying squirrels for instance. Flying insects like butterflies and beetles? Yep, all high-wings. How about dinosaurs? Without looking up a skeleton or artist’s rendition you’ll note that the winged reptiles, pterodactyls of the late Triassic Period were—you guessed it—high-wing aircraft.
I’m sure you by now surmise that I ended up deciding on a high-wing airplane and you’d be correct. (Admittedly, it was kind of a dinosaur but I loved it, a Cessna 150.) Before you pilots in the low-wing camp criticize me for flimsy aeronautical buying decision-making because so what, after all, Mother Nature doesn’t make any propellers or rotorcraft, I would encourage you to check out seeds of the maple tree. They’re called winged samaras. When I was a kid we called them helicopters. Ash and a few other trees produce rotorcraft, too.
In conclusion, if it’s good enough for Mother Nature, I’m sticking with high-winged planes. Anything else would simply be unnatural. Wait a minute. What? There are fish that can fly? And flying fish are mid-winged? Now that’s really unnatural!