Canard (aeronautics)

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In aeronautics, canard refers to an arrangement in which a small forewing or foreplane is placed ahead of the main wing of a fixed-wing aircraft. The term "canard" may be used to describe the aircraft itself, the wing configuration or the foreplane.[1][2][3]

Despite being used on the first aeroplane to fly, the Wright Flyer of 1903, canard surfaces did not appear on a production machine until the Saab Viggen in 1967 and their complex aerodynamic characteristics were not fully understood until later still.

The term "canard" arose from the appearance of the Santos-Dumont 14-bis of 1906, which reminded the French public of a duck (French canard).[4] [5]


The Wright Flyer of 1903 was a canard biplane

Pioneer years[edit]

Sir Hiram Maxim fitted both fore and aft elevator planes to his experimental craft in 1893. Although it was able to lift into the air, it was uncontrolled and was held down by a safety rail.[6]

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. In fact, it happened due to the insufficient pitch control of that particular configuration, rather than because of the choice of the aft horizontal control surfaces.[citation needed] Nevertheless, the Wrights expected a foreplane to be a better control surface, in addition to being visible to the pilot in flight.[7]

Many pioneers initially followed the Wrights' lead. For example, the Santos-Dumont 14-bis aeroplane of 1906 had no "tail", but a box kite-like set of control surfaces in the front, pivoting on a universal joint on the fuselage's extreme nose, making it capable of incorporating both yaw and pitch control. 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]

Experiments continued sporadically for many years. 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.

Immediately before and during World War II several 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]

XB-70 Valkyrie experimental bomber

With the arrival of the jet age and supersonic flight, American designers and especially North American began to experiment 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. The success of this aircraft 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 the American Burt Rutan to create a two-seater homebuilt canard design, accordingly named VariViggen and flown in 1972. Rutan's next two canard designs, the VariEze and Long-EZ had longer-span swept wings. These designs were not only successful and built in large numbers but radically different from anything seen before.[10] Rutan's ideas soon spread to other designers. From the 1980s they found favour in the executive market with the appearance of types such as the OMAC Laser 300, Avtek 400 and Beech Starship.

Computer control[edit]

Canards visible on a JAS 39 Gripen

Static canard designs can have complex interactions in airflow between the canard and the main wing, leading to issues with stability and behaviour in the stall. This limits their applicability. The development of fly-by-wire and artificial stability towards the end of the century opened the way for computerized controls to begin turning these complex effects from stability concerns into maneuverability advantages.[11]

This approach 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.

Basic 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 sometimes generates negative lift that must be counteracted by extra lift on the main wing. As the canard lift adds to 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 differences in overall lift and induced drag are not obvious and they depend on the details of the design.[11][13][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] To ensure safe pitch stability in the stall, the canard must stall first, so the wing must always stay below its maximum lift capability. Hence, the wing must be larger than otherwise necessary, reducing or even reversing the reduction in size enabled by the canard lift.[11][14]

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. 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

Pitch control in a canard type may be achieved either by the canard surface, as on the control-canard or in the same way as a tailless aircraft, by control surfaces at the rear of the main wing, as on the Saab Viggen.

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

Canards with little or no loading (i.e. control-canards) may be used to intentionally destabilize some combat aircraft in order to make them more manoeuvrable. The electronic flight control system uses the pitch control function of the canard foreplane to create artificial static and dynamic stability.[11][14]

A benefit obtainable from a control-canard is the correction of pitch-up during a wingtip stall. An all-moving canard capable of a significant nose-down deflection can be used to counteract the pitch-up due to the tip stall. As a result, the aspect ratio and sweep of the wing can be optimized without having to guard against pitch-up.[12] A highly loaded lifting canard does not have sufficient spare lift capacity to provide this protection.


Pterodactyl Ascender II+2 with stabilizing canard

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 stabiliser 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 coefficient 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 coefficient slope (see above). Conversely, a propeller located ahead of the canard (increasing the lift slope of the canard) has a strong destabilising effect.[27]


A highly-loaded lifting canard may not have sufficient spare lifting capacity to accommodate large movements of the centre of pressure or of the centre of gravity. Trim may be accomplished in similar manner to a tailless craft, by adjustment of trailing-edge surfaces.

In particular, the use of landing flaps on the main wing causes a large trim change. The Saab Viggen has flaps on the canard surface which were deployed simultaneously to cancel out the change in trim. The Beech Starship uses variable-sweep foreplanes to trim the position of the lift force.


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]

Free-floating canard[edit]

The canard configuration also allows a safe recovery from high AoA with an unloaded or freefloating canard. This can change a static longitudinal unstable configuration to a static longitudinal stable configuration.[30][31]

Variable geometry[edit]

The Beechcraft Starship has variable-sweep foreplanes

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.[32]

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.[33]

Ride control[edit]

B-1B Lancer front small fin surfaces

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" [34] or "canard fins".[35]


Canard aircraft can potentially have poor stealth characteristics because they present large, angular surfaces that tend to reflect radar signals forwards.[11][page needed][36] The Eurofighter Typhoon uses software control of its canards in order to reduce its effective radar cross section.[37][38]

Canards have also been incorporated on stealth aircraft such as Lockheed Martin's Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program.[39][40] and McDonnell Douglas / NASA's X-36 research prototype.[41]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Wragg, D.; Historical Dictionary of Aviation, History Press (2008), Page 79.
  2. ^ Clancy, L.; Aerodynamics, Halsted (1975), Page 293.
  3. ^ Crane, Dale (1997), Dictionary of Aeronautical Terms (3rd ed.), Aviation Supplies & Academics, p. 86, ISBN 1-56027-287-2 .
  4. ^ Villard, Henry Serrano (2002). Contact! : the story of the early aviators. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. pp. 39–53. ISBN 0-486-42327-1. 
  5. ^ Burns 1983.
  6. ^ Wragg, D. Flight before flying, Osprey (1974), Page 120.
  7. ^ Culick, F.E.C. (2003). "The Wright Brothers: First Aeronautical Engineers and Test Pilots" (PDF). AIAA Journal. doi:10.2514/2.2046. Retrieved 2015-08-08. 
  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 .
  25. ^ Hoerner, "Aspect ratio", Fluid Dynamic Lift, pp. 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 (PDF), 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. ^ Probert, B, Aspects of Wing Design for Transonic and Supersonic Combat (pdf), NATO .
  31. ^ Aerodynamic highlights of a fourth generation delta canard fighter aircraft, Mach flyg .
  32. ^ Conformably Stowable Canard (tech brief), Ames Research Center .
  33. ^ 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 .
  34. ^ Jones (1974), "US Bombers", Aero, canard vanes .
  35. ^ "B-1 Roll-out", Flight, 1974, canard fins for ride control .
  36. ^ Sweetman, William ‘Bill’ (June 1997), "Top Gun", Popular Science: 104 .
  37. ^ "FAQ Eurofighter (translation)." Retrieved 29 November 2009.
  38. ^ "Austrian Eurofighter committee of inquiry: Brigadier Dipl.Ing.Knoll about Eurofighter and Stealth, pp. 76–77. (English translation)" Google. Retrieved 28 November 2009.
  39. ^ Sweetman, Wiliam ‘Bill’ (14 January 2011), "From JAST To J-20", Aviation Week .
  40. ^ Sweetman, William ‘Bill’ (2005). Lockheed Stealth. Zenith Press. pp. 122–24 [124]. ISBN 0-7603-1940-5. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  41. ^ "Agility+Stealth = X-36: formula for an advanced fighter " Design News 14 January 2013


  • 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. 
  • Selberg, Bruce P and Cronin, Donald L, Aerodynamic-Structural Study of Canard Wing, Dual Wing, and Conventional Wing Systems for General Aviation Applications. University of Missouri-Rolla. Contract Report 172529, National Aeronautics and Space Administration [1]

External links[edit]