Can Airplanes Fly Upside Down? Inverted Flight Explained

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An aerobatic airplane flying upside down. Image by Chad Horwedel

To summarize it all, inverted flight requires:

  1. Wings that can remain within the flyable range of angle of attack, when flying upside down.
  2. Fuel and oil systems that can maintain efficient flow during inverted flight.
  3. A skilled pilot who’s able to execute and control the maneuver effectively.

Upside Down Flying

While upside down flight is achievable, it is not recommended for common aircraft due to safety issues and structural limitations of the aircraft.

Airliners, especially, are certified for upright flight only – and all the control surfaces are designed for maximum efficacy in upright flight. Inverted flight in these aircraft is only momentarily possible.

However, airplanes such as the Extra EA300 or the Cessna 152 Aerobat come under the category of Aerobatic aircraft and are designed and tested rigorously for such extreme maneuvers. These aircraft can attain and maintain inverted flight.

Recreational Flight and Air Combat

Inverted flight has its advantages as recreational flying and in air to air combat scenarios. Pilots holding a CPL or a PPL have to get their licences endorsed accordingly in order to fly upside down or to perform any other aerobatic maneuver.

Resources:

Trenner, P. How Things Work: Flying Upside Down. (2002). Accessed February 2, 2013.

Federal Aviation Administration. Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. (2008). Accessed February 2, 2013.

Federal Aviation Administration. Airplane Flying Handbook. (2004). Accessed February 2, 2013.

Oxford Aviation Services. Joint Aviation Authorities Airline Transport Pilot’s License Theoretical Knowledge Manual. (2001). Accessed February 2, 2013.

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