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Wide-body aircraft

A wide-body aircraft is a large airliner with a fuselage diameter of about 6 metres and twin aisles. Passengers are usually seated 7 to 10 abreast. For comparison, a traditional narrow-body airliner has a diameter of 3 to 4 metres, a single aisle, and seats arranged 4 to 6 abreast. Typical wide-body aircraft can accommodate between 200 and 600 passengers, where the largest narrow-bodies carry about 280. Freight-only versions exist as well, which are similar bar the cargo-loading arrangements.

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340-300

Larger version

The first wide-body aircraft was the four-engined Boeing 747 which debuted in 1969 and is still the largest in service, although the Airbus A380 will be larger still when it enters production in 2005. Slightly smaller and shorter ranged three-engined wide-bodies followed in the early 1970s - the Douglas DC-10 and the Lockheed Tristar - then the twin-engined Airbus A300 in 1974. Subsequent commercial wide-bodies include the Boeing 767 (1982) and 777 (1995), the Ilyushin Il-86 (1980) and Il-96 (1992), and the Airbus A330/A340 (1993). The United States and the Soviet Union both produced dedicated military wide-body transports: the Lockheed C5, the Ilyushin Il-76, and the McDonnell Douglas C-17.

Although a wide-body aircraft has a larger frontal area than a narrow-body of equivalent capacity, and thus greater form drag[?], it has several advantages:

  • Lower ratio of surface area to volume, and thus (for equal volume) lower frictional drag.

  • Shorter twin aisles make loading and unloading faster and reduce the difficulty of serving refreshments.

  • Shorter overall length, which makes it easier to achieve the desired take-off rotation angle without very long and heavy landing gear.

  • Greater under-floor freight capacity.

  • Simple size: it's possible to make a wide-body aircraft much larger than a narrow-body and, all else being equal, the larger the aircraft the lower the fuel-burn per passenger-mile and the lower the cost.

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