English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Can I use this word? Or is there a more suitable one?

share|improve this question
it's just "skin". – Joe Blow Jun 28 '11 at 20:02
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Usually, the actual layer of material on the very outside of the entire plane is referred to as its "skin", as distinct from its "skeleton" or "structure" and in much the same sense of the words as a human's skin and skeleton. A similar word is "shell", not often used with planes (as the outer surface is very intricately connected with the structure beneath), but more often with cars and land vehicles, especially racing cars. In ships, the term is usually "hull", and this term can sometimes be used to refer to an aircraft's or (more often) spacecraft's outer layer.

The fuselage of a plane is its main body, as distinct from its wings and tail. It has both a skeleton and a skin (both mainly of aluminum, sometimes carbon fiber), as do the wings and tail. However, neither fuselage, wings or tail could be considered a plane's "outer covering".

share|improve this answer
+1, although you'll see the term "sheathing" or "sheathed" used in old documents (pre-WWII) especially in regards to doped-fabric-over-plywood construction. "Skin" seems to have been preferred for as long as the covering has been a stressed part of the airframe. – bye Jun 28 '11 at 18:46

Exterior covering material in general can be called sheathing, but I don't know if I've every seen that used for an airplane. (Ships and houses, yes, but not planes.)

share|improve this answer

If the fuselage's skin is used as the actual load-bearing, structural surface (rather than sheathing on an internal frame), it's called a monocoque construction. The exoskeleton of a beetle could be called monococque (although I don't think anybody ever actually does.)

share|improve this answer
I don't believe the outer surface of any plane I've ever met has been structural. Trying to construct a plane that way would probably result in something that's so heavy it has no hope of ever leaving the ground, nevermind flying. – Marthaª Jun 28 '11 at 18:48
The Albatros DIII (Richthofen's plane) and the deHavilland Mosquito were a couple of examples of monococques; there have been others, but you're right: in a plane over a certain size, a monococque is too heavy. However, there's this: "To overcome the strength-to-weight problem of monocoque design, a modification called semimonocoque design was developed and is widely used on aircraft such as all Boeing Commercial Aircraft like the 737..." You've probably flown in one of those... – MT_Head Jun 28 '11 at 19:10
@Martha, it's completely normal for the skin to be a structural element. (Not the only structural element, but 100% structural.) – Joe Blow Jun 28 '11 at 19:59

The word you're probably looking for is fuselage. From Wikipedia:

The fuselage (pronounced /ˈfjuːzəlɑːʒ/; from the French fuselé "spindle-shaped") is an aircraft's main body section that holds crew and passengers or cargo.

share|improve this answer
Agreed. A sheath is commonly a covering, as in a storage and/or protective case, particularly for a knife or sword. The contained object is intended to be removed from its covering. I certainly hope your aircraft does not intend to shed its outer covering! – Mike Christian Jun 28 '11 at 18:32
It's really NOT the fuselage, Ben, sorry. The fuselage is simply the "body" of the plane -- ie, not the wings or tail. It's that simple. ("Cabin" or "body" means almost the same as "fuselage".) The word "fuselage" has no relation to the skin - note that the fuselage has skin, as does the tail, wings, nose, etc. – Joe Blow Jun 28 '11 at 20:02
@Joe Blow. No, the fuselage is not the same thing as the skin. However, it might be the word he's looking for. – Ben Hocking Jun 28 '11 at 20:29

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.