Canard (aeronautics)

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Canards (lateral surfaces in blue) on the Saab Viggen
Wright Flyer was a canard biplane
Curtiss XP-55 Ascender
The Beechcraft Starship executive transport
Canards visible on a JAS 39 Gripen
XB-70 Valkyrie experimental bomber aircraft
B-1B Lancer front small fin surfaces

In aeronautics, a canard (French for "duck") is a fixed-wing aircraft configuration in which a small horizontal surface, also named the canard or foreplane, is positioned forward of the main wing in contrast to the conventional position at the tail.[1][2][3] Because of this it is sometimes described as "tail-first".[4]

The term "canard" arose in France. The appearance of the Santos-Dumont 14-bis of 1906 reminded the French public of a flying duck (Fr. canard),[5] and later the Fabre Hydravion of 1910 was named "Le Canard".[6] Thereafter all aeroplanes with a foreplane were known as canards.[7]


Pioneer years[edit]

The Wright Brothers began experimenting with the foreplane configuration around 1900. Their first kite included a front surface for pitch control and they adopted this configuration for their first Flyer. They were aware that Otto Lilienthal had been killed in a glider with an aft tail, due to a lack of pitch control. They expected a foreplane to be a better control surface, in addition to being visible to the pilot in flight.

Many pioneers initially followed the Wrights' lead. For example the Santos-Dumont 14-bis aeroplane of 1906 had no tail but small control surfaces in the front. The Fabre Hydravion of 1910 was the first floatplane to fly and had a foreplane.

But canard behaviour was not properly understood and other European pioneers — among them, Louis Blériot — were establishing the tailplane as the "conventional" design. Some, including the Wrights, experimented with both fore and aft planes on the same aircraft, now known as the three surface configuration.

After 1911, few canard types would be produced for many decades. In 1914 W.E. Evans commented that "the Canard type model has practically received its death-blow so far as scientific models are concerned."[8]

1914 to 1945[edit]

In 1917 de Bruyère constructed his C.1 biplane fighter. It featured a single (monoplane) canard foreplane with both conventional and ventral tail fins behind which was the rear-mounted pusher propellor. The tip sections of the upper wings were movable and acted as ailerons. The C.1 rolled over and crashed on its first flight.[9]

First flown in 1927, the experimental Focke-Wulf F 19 "Ente" (duck) was more successful. Two examples were built and although one crashed for unrelated reasons, the second example continued flying until 1931.

Just before and during World War II some more experimental canard fighters were flown, including the Ambrosini SS.4, Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender and Kyūshū J7W1 Shinden, but no production aircraft were completed. The Shinden was ordered into production "off the drawing board" but hostilities ceased before any other than prototypes had flown.

Just after the end of World War II in Europe in 1945, what may have been the first canard designed and flown in the Soviet Union appeared as a test aircraft, the lightweight Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-8 Utka. It was reportedly a favorite among MiG OKB test pilots for its docile, slow-speed handling characteristics and flew for some years, being used as a testbed during development of the (conventional) MiG-15.

The canard revival[edit]

From the 1950s, American designers and especially North American experimented with supersonic canard delta designs, with some such as the North American XB-70 Valkyrie and the Soviet equivalent Sukhoi T-4 flying in prototype form. But it was not until 1967 that the Swedish Saab 37 Viggen became the first canard aircraft to enter production. This spurred many designers, and canard surfaces sprouted on a number of designs derived from the popular Dassault Mirage delta-winged jet fighter. These included variants of the French Dassault Mirage III, Israeli IAI Kfir and South African Atlas Cheetah. The canard delta remains a popular configuration for combat aircraft.

The Viggen also inspired Burt Rutan to create a two seater homebuilt canard design, accordingly named VariViggen (1972). Rutan's next two canard designs, the VariEze and Long-EZ had longer-span swept wings. These designs were radically different from anything seen before[10] and were also very successful with many examples built.[a] The 1980s saw the spreading of Rutan's ideas to other designers, including executive canards such as the OMAC Laser 300, Avtek 400 and Beech Starship.

The development of fly-by-wire and artificial stability produced a new generation of military canard designs. The Saab JAS 39 Gripen multirole fighter flew in 1988 and was adopted by a number of national air forces. Others followed. Types which would follow it into operational service included the Eurofighter Typhoon in 1994 and the Chinese Chengdu J-10 in 1998.

Modern canards[edit]

Static canard designs can have issues with stability and behaviour in the stall. Modern computerized controls began to turn the complex interactions in airflow between the canard and the main wing from stability concerns into maneuverability advantages.[11] Some canard aircraft designs have trim advantages that allow them to better adjust for center of mass changes due to load changes or fuel use, and for aerodynamic center changes when shifting between subsonic and supersonic flight.

Design principles[edit]

A canard foreplane may be used for various reasons such as lift, (in)stability, trim, flight control, or to modify airflow over the main wing. Design analysis has been divided into two main classes, for the lifting-canard and the control-canard.[12][page needed] These classes may follow the close-coupled type or not, and a given design may provide either or both of lift and control.

Rutan Long-EZ, with high aspect ratio lifting-canard


In the lifting-canard configuration, the weight of the aircraft is shared between the wing and the canard. It has been described as an extreme conventional configuration but with a small highly-loaded wing and an enormous lifting tail which enables the centre of mass to be very far aft relative to the front surface.[13]

A lifting canard generates an upload, in contrast to a conventional aft-tail which generates negative lift that must be counteracted by extra lift on the main wing. As the canard lift appears to increase the overall lift capability of the aircraft, this may appear to favor the canard layout. In particular, at takeoff the wing is most heavily loaded and where a conventional tail exerts a downforce worsening the load, a canard exerts an upward force relieving the load. This allows a smaller main wing.

However, the foreplane also creates a downwash which can affect the wing lift distribution unfavorably, so the difference in overall induced drag is actually not obvious, and depends on the details of the configuration.[11][13][14] Also, pitch stability requirements dictate that the canard must stall before the wing, so the wing can never reach its maximum lift capability. Hence, the wing must be larger than on the conventional configuration, which increases its area, weight and profile drag.[11][14]

A danger associated with an insufficiently-loaded canard—i.e. when the center of gravity too far aft—is that when approaching stall, the main wing may stall first. This causes the rear of the craft to drop, deepening the stall and sometimes preventing recovery.[15]

With a lifting-canard type, the main wing must be located further aft of the center of gravity than a conventional wing, and this increases the downward pitching moment caused by the deflection of trailing-edge flaps. Small, highly-loaded canards do not have sufficient extra lift available to balance this moment, so lifting-canard aircraft cannot readily be designed with powerful trailing-edge flaps.[12]


The control canard on an RAF Typhoon in flight

In a control-canard design, most of the weight of the aircraft is carried by the wing and the canard is used primarily for longitudinal control during maneuvering. Thus, a control-canard mostly operates only as a control surface and is usually at zero angle of attack, carrying no aircraft weight in normal flight. Modern combat aircraft of canard configuration typically have a control-canard. In modern combat aircraft, the canard is usually driven by a computerized flight control system.[12]

One benefit obtainable from a control-canard is the avoidance of pitch-up. An all-moving canard capable of a significant nose-down deflection will protect against pitch-up. As a result, the aspect ratio and wing-sweep of the wing can be optimized without having to guard against pitch-up.[12]

They are used to intentionally destabilize some combat aircraft in order to make them more manoeuvrable. In this case, electronic flight control systems use the pitch control function of the canard foreplane to create artificial static and dynamic stability.[11][14]


A canard foreplane may be used as a horizontal stabiliser, whether stability is achieved statically[16][17][18] or artificially (fly-by-wire).[19]

Being placed ahead of the center of gravity, a canard foreplane acts directly to reduce Longitudinal static stability (stability in pitch). The first airplane to achieve controlled, powered flight, the Wright Flyer, was conceived as a control-canard[20] but in effect was also an unstable lifting canard.[21] At that time the Wright Brothers did not understand the basics of pitch stability of the canard configuration, and were in any event more concerned with controllability.[22]

Nevertheless, a canard stabilizer may be added to an otherwise unstable design to obtain overall static pitch stability.[23] To achieve this stability, the change in canard lift coefficient with angle of attack (lift coefficient slope) should be less than that for the main plane.[24] A number of factors affect this characteristic.[12]

For most airfoils, lift slope decreases at high lift coefficients. Therefore, the most common way in which pitch stability can be achieved is to increase the lift coefficient (so the wing loading) of the canard. This tends to increase the lift-induced drag of the foreplane, which may be given a high aspect ratio in order to limit drag.[24] Such a canard airfoil has a greater airfoil camber than the wing.

Another possibility is to decrease the aspect ratio of the canard,[25] with again more lift-induced drag and possibly a higher stall angle than the wing.

A design approach used by Burt Rutan is a high aspect ratio canard with higher lift coefficient (the wing loading of the canard is between 1.6 to 2 times the wing one) and a canard airfoil whose lift slope is non-linear (nearly flat) between 14° and 24°.[26]

Another stabilisation parameter is the power effect. In case of canard pusher propeller: "the power-induced flow clean up of the wing trailing edge" [26] increases the wing lift slope. Conversely, a propeller located ahead of the canard (increasing the lift slope of the canard) has a strong destabilising effect.[27]

Close coupling[edit]

In the close-coupled canard, the foreplane is located just above and forward of the wing. At high angles of attack (and therefore typically at low speeds) the canard surface directs airflow downward over the wing, reducing turbulence which results in reduced drag and increased lift.[28] Typically the foreplane creates a vortex which attaches to the upper surface of the wing, stabilising and re-energising the airflow over the wing and delaying or preventing the stall.

The canard foreplane may be fixed as on the IAI Kfir, have landing flaps as on the Saab Viggen, or be moveable and also act as a control-canard during normal flight as on the Dassault Rafale.

A close-coupled canard has been shown to benefit a supersonic delta wing design which gains lift in both transonic flight (such as for supercruise) and also in low speed flight (such as take offs and landings).[29]


Canard aircraft are sometimes said to have poor stealth characteristics because they present large, angular surfaces that tend to reflect radar signals forwards.[11][page needed][30] Canards have nevertheless been incorporated on several proposed stealth aircraft. Northrop's proposal for the Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF), termed NATF-23, incorporated canard on a stealthy airframe.[31][32] Lockheed Martin employed canards on a stealth airframe in the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program.[33][34] McDonnell Douglas and NASA's stealthy X-36 featured the use of canards.[35] The Eurofighter Typhoon uses software control of its canards in order to reduce its effective radar cross section.[36][37]

Variable geometry[edit]

A moustache is a small, high aspect ratio foreplane which is deployed only for low-speed flight in order to improve handling at high angles of attack such as during takeoff and landing. It is retractable at high speed in order to avoid the Wave drag penalty of a canard design. First seen on the Dassault Milan, and later on the Tupolev Tu-144. NASA has investigated the use of a one-piece slewed equivalent called the conformably stowable canard, where as the surface is stowed one side sweeps backwards and the other forwards.[38]

The Beechcraft Starship had a variable sweep canard surface. The sweep is varied to trim out the pitching effect cause by the wing flaps when deployed.[39]

Ride control[edit]

The Rockwell B-1 Lancer shows small front fin surfaces as part of an active vibration damping system that reduces significant aerodynamic buffeting during high-speed, low altitude flight. This buffeting is a leading cause of crew fatigue and reduced airframe life. As placed in front of the plane, these surfaces are described as "canard vanes" [40] or "canard fins".[41]

List of canard aircraft[edit]

Type Country Date Role Status Description
AASI Jetcruzer 1991 Light transport Prototype Pusher configuration
AEA June Bug USA 1908 Experimental Prototype
Ambrosini SS.4 Italy 1939 Fighter Prototype Pusher configuration
ASL Valkyrie Great Britain 1910 Tractor configuration with propeller in front of wing.
Atlas Cheetah South Africa 1986 Fighter
Aviafiber Canard 2FL 1977
Avro 730 Great Britain 1957 Bomber Project Mach 3 performance
Avtek 400 1984 Light transport Pusher configuration
Beech Starship USA 1986 Light transport Pusher configuration
Beltrame Colibri 1938
Besson canard 1911 [42]
Berkut 360
Blériot V France 1907 Experimental Pusher configuration
Chengdu J-9 China 1975
Chengdu J-10 China 1998
Chengdu J-20 China 2011 [43]
Chudzik CC-1 1987 [44]
Cozy MK IV
Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender USA 1943 Fighter Prototype Pusher configuration
Dassault Mirage III France 1981 Fighter Variant with a small close-coupled canard
Dassault Rafale France 1986 Fighter
e-Go 2013
Eipper Lotus Microlight 1982 [45]
Eurofighter Typhoon International 1994 Production
Fabre Hydravion France 1910 Experimental Prototype First airworthy seaplane.
Focke-Wulf F 19 Germany 1927 Experimental Prototype aircraft
Focke-Wulf Fw 42 Germany 1932 Bomber Project Twin-engined.[46]
Freedom Aviation Phoenix
Gyroflug Speed Canard 1980
IAI Kfir C2 Israel 1974 Fighter
IAI Lavi Israel 1986 Fighter
Junqua Ibis 1991
Kyūshū J7W1 Shinden Japan 1945 Fighter Prototype Pusher configuration
Lippisch Ente Germany 1928 Experimental Prototype Rocket powered
Lockheed L-133 USA 1942 Fighter Project Jet powered
MacCready Gossamer Condor 1977 Man-powered One-off Pusher configuration
MacCready Gossamer Albatross 1979 Man-powered One-off
Messerschmitt P.1110 Ente Germany 1945 jet interceptor project for the Emergency Fighter Program[47]
MiG-8 Utka Soviet Union 1945 Experimental Prototype
North American X-10 USA 1953
North American SM-64 Navaho USA 1957 Cruise missile
North American XB-70 Valkyrie USA 1964 Bomber Prototype Mach 3 performance, "waverider" wing.
Novi Avion Yugoslavia 1991 Multi-role combat Project
OMAC Laser 300 1981 Light transport Pusher configuration
Pterodactyl Ascender 1980 Variant with a control canard
Qaher-313 Iran 2013 Fighter Project
Rockwell-MBB X-31 USA/Germany 1990 Experimental Prototype
Roe I Biplane United Kingdom 1908 Experimental Prototype
Rutan Amsoil Racer 1981
Rutan Defiant USA 1978
Rutan Long-EZ USA 1979
Rutan Solitaire USA 1982
Rutan VariEze USA 1975 Private Homebuilt
Rutan VariViggen USA 1972 Private Homebuilt
Rutan Voyager USA 1986 Private One-off Round-the-world special
Saab 37 Viggen Sweden 1967 Fighter Production
Saab JAS 39 Gripen Sweden 1988 Fighter Production
Santos-Dumont 14-bis France 1906 Experimental Prototype
Scaled Composites ARES USA 1990
Sukhoi T-4 Soviet Union 1972 Bomber Prototype Mach 3 performance
Tupolev Tu-144 Soviet Union 1968 SST Production Canard "moustache"
Velocity SE
Velocity XL
Archdeacon glider France 1904 Experimental Prototype
Voisin Canard France 1911
Wright Glider USA 1902 Experimental Prototype
Wright Flyer USA 1903 Experimental Prototype
Wright Stagger-Ez

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rutan canards: more than 400 VariEze, more than 1100 Long-EZ



  1. ^ Crane, Dale (1997), Dictionary of Aeronautical Terms (3rd ed.), Aviation Supplies & Academics, p. 86, ISBN 1-56027-287-2 .
  2. ^ From the Ground Up (27th rev ed.), Aviation Publishers Co, p. 10, ISBN 0-9690054-9-0 .
  3. ^ "Part 1—Definitions & abbreviations". 14: Aeronautics and Space. Federal Aviation Administration. August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  4. ^ Miles, G (27 April 1944), "The tandem monoplane", Flight: 444–49 .
  5. ^ Villard, Henry Serrano (2002). Contact! : the story of the early aviators. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. pp. 39–53. ISBN 0-486-42327-1. 
  6. ^ Voisin, Gabriel, Mes 10.000 cerfs-volants [My 10,000 kites], "(about his 1904 glider) en une heure, j'avais transformé mon planeur, qui, chargé sur l'avant, devenait ce qu'on allait appeler en 1910 un ‘canard’. Formule découverte par H. Fabre [in one hour, I had modified my glider, which, nose loaded, became what will be called in 1910 a ‘canard’. Term discovered by H. Fabre]." 
  7. ^ Burns 1983.
  8. ^ Flight, Flight global, 14 March 1914, p. 286 .
  9. ^ Green, W; Swanborough, G (1994), The complete book of fighters, Salamander, p. 163 .
  10. ^ Stinton, Daroll, The design of the aeroplane, "Rutan canards wrought a change in thinking which might have a profound influence in future" .
  11. ^ a b c d e Neblett, Metheny & Leifsson 2003.
  12. ^ a b c d e Raymer 1989, Section 4.5 – Tail geometry and arrangement.
  13. ^ a b Drela, Mark, Aero-astro professor, MIT, Canard description (forum), RC universe .
  14. ^ a b c A Summary of Canard Advantages and Disadvantages, Desktop Aero .
  15. ^ "VariEze", A look at handling qualities of canard configurations, Nasa, p. 15, TM 88354, "With a rearward CG position, a high AoA trim (deep stall) condition may occur from which recovery may be impossible" 
  16. ^ Garrison (2002), page 85; "the stabilizer in the front... This is the function of the stabilizer. If it's in the back it typically pushes downward, and if it's in the front it lifts upward."
  17. ^ Benson, T (ed.), "Airplane parts and functions", Beginner's Guide to Aeronautics (NASA Glenn Research Center), "On the Wright brother's first aircraft, the horizontal stabilizer was placed in front of the wings." 
  18. ^ Aircraft with reduced wing structure loading (patent), US, 6064923 A, "...a front stabilizer, generally known as a canard stabilizer…" 
  19. ^ X-29 (fact sheet), Dryden: Nasa, FS-008-DFRC, "The X-29... while its canards — horizontal stabilizers to control pitch — were in front of the wings instead of on the tail" .
  20. ^ Culick, AIAA-2001-3385, "Consistently with ignoring the condition of zero net (pitch) moment, the Wrights assumed that in equilibrium the canard carried no load and served only as a control device." 
  21. ^ "Wright Flyer", A look at handling qualities of canard configurations, Nasa, p. 8, TM 88354, "...the Flyer was highly unstable... The lateral/directional stability and control of the Flyer were marginal" .
  22. ^ Culick, FEC (2001), Wright Brothers: First Aeronautical Engineers and Test Pilots (PDF), p. 4, "The backward state of the general theory and understanding of flight mechanics hindered them." 
  23. ^ Garrison (2002), page 85; "Because the center of gravity is not sitting right on top of the center of lift, but is ahead of it, the aircraft would tip over forard if some balancing force were not provided. This is the function of the stabilizer."
  24. ^ a b Sherwin, Keith (1975), Man powered flight (rev reprint ed.), Model & Allied Publications, p. 131, ISBN 0‐85242‐436‐1 Check |isbn= value (help) .
  25. ^ Hoerner, "Aspect ratio", Fluid Dynamic Lift, p. 11-30 .
  26. ^ a b VariEze Wind Tunnel Investigation, Nasa, TP 2382 .
  27. ^ Tandem aircraft PAT-1, Nasa, TM 88354 .
  28. ^ "Jet Aircraft – Effect of a close-coupled canard on a swept wing". SAI Research Report (Abstract). Sage Action. 2009. 7501. Retrieved 2009-08-25. 
  29. ^ Anderson, Seth B (1 September 1986), A Look at Handling Qualities of Canard Configurations, NASA, p. 16, TM-88354, "Incorporating roll control on the canard is basically less efficient because of an adverse downwash influence on the main wing opposing the canard rolling-moment input." 
  30. ^ Sweetman, William ‘Bill’ (June 1997), "Top Gun", Popular Science: 104 .
  31. ^ "F-23A & NATF-23", YF-23, 15 January 2013 .
  32. ^ "NATF-23 diagram in hi-rez" Aerospace Project Review 15 January 2013
  33. ^ Sweetman, Wiliam ‘Bill’ (14 January 2011), "From JAST To J-20", Aviation Week .
  34. ^ Sweetman, William ‘Bill’ (2005). canard Lockheed Stealth. Zenith Press. pp. 122–24 [124]. ISBN 0‐7603‐1940‐5 Check |isbn= value (help). Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  35. ^ "Agility+Stealth = X-36: formula for an advanced fighter " Design News 14 January 2013
  36. ^ "FAQ Eurofighter (translation)." Retrieved 29 November 2009.
  37. ^ "Austrian Eurofighter committee of inquiry: Brigadier Dipl.Ing.Knoll about Eurofighter and Stealth, pp. 76–77. (English translation)" Google. Retrieved 28 November 2009.
  38. ^ Conformably Stowable Canard (tech brief), Ames Research Center .
  39. ^ Roskam, J (1989), Airplane Design: Preliminary Configuration Design and Integration of the Propulsion System, Design Analysis & Research, p. 82, ISBN 978-1‐884885‐43‐3 Check |isbn= value (help) .
  40. ^ Jones (1974), "US Bombers", Aero, "canard vanes" .
  41. ^ "B-1 Roll-out", Flight, 1974, "canard fins for ride control" .
  42. ^ Avia France .
  43. ^ Trimble,Stephen. "J-20: China's ultimate aircraft carrier-killer?" Flight global || || 9 February 2012.
  44. ^ van Tilborg. "Chudzik CC-1". 1000 aircraft photos. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  45. ^ "A unique database on Burt Rutan and his projects!". Stargazer. Online. 2006. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  46. ^ Focke-Wulf Fw 42, Luft'46 .
  47. ^ Me P.1110 Ente, Luft'46 .


  • Burns, BRA (December 1983), "Were the Wrights Right?", Air International  .
  • ——— (23 February 1985), "Canards: Design with Care", Flight International: 19–21 .
  • Neblett, Evan; Metheny, Michael ‘Mike’; Leifsson, Leifur Thor (17 March 2003), "Canards" (PDF), AOE 4124 Class notes (Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, Virginia Tech) .
  • Garrison, P (December 2002), "Three's Company", Flying 129 (12): 85–86 
  • Raymer, Daniel P (1989), Aircraft Design: A Conceptual Approach, Washington, DC: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, ISBN 0-930403-51-7 

Further reading[edit]

  • Abzug; Larrabee (2002), Airplane Stability and Control, Cambridge University Press .
  • Gambu, J; Perard, J (Jan 1973), "Saab 37 Viggen", Aviation International (602): 29–40 .
  • Lennon, Andy (1984), Canard : a revolution in flight, Aviation .
  • Rollo, Vera Foster (1991), Burt Rutan Reinventing the Airplane, Maryland Historical Press .
  • Wilkinson, R (2001). Aircraft Structures and Systems (2nd ed.). MechAero Publishing. 

External links[edit]