Welcome back to our Word of the Week!

Every week, we look together at a word that is either interesting, funny or mysterious and that appeals to all of us in the aviation community.

This week, we’ll take a look at a structural part of fixed-wing aircraft: the empennage

empennage (n.)

UK /ˌɑːmpɪˈnɑːʒ/ US /ˈɛmpɪnɪdʒ/

The empennage is the structure at the rear of an aircraft that provides vertical stability and control. Many aircraft feature an empennage that includes a vertical fin and horizontal foils and elevators that control the aircraft pitch.

The word ’empennage’ comes from the French word penne (no, not the Italian shape of pasta), which in fact is used for the long tail feather of a bird, which, coincidentally is the feather that helps the bird to maintain… well, vertical stability.

The French then used that word into a verb empenner which means to garnish an arrow with feathers to increase its stability and then of course empennage which is the act of doing so.

As we said earlier, many aircraft feature en empennage

The empennage of a Boeing 747-200

This being said, some aircraft only have the vertical fin:

A DH 108 (Swallow)

whilst some others do not have any tail assembly whatsoever. Note that the design of the whole aircraft is a complete different paradigm:

The Northrop B-2

The theoretical advantages of not having a tail assembly include lower drag, and better stealth qualities for combat aircraft. Aircraft without empennage rely on the main wing and its control surfaces for vertical stability and control.