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The X-wing fighters can change their wing configuration, from the X shape during battle to flat wings (the wings on the same side fold together) during FTL travel.

I'm guessing that the real world explanation is something like, "it looks cool". But what is the in universe explanation?

There is no (little) resistance in space, so wing configuration wouldn't make that much difference. I can't see it making much change to performance, e.g. in angular momentum, either.

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I believe the change is to spread fire out for attack, and to deal with some light-speed concerns when flat. –  DampeS8N Oct 4 '11 at 15:01
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Lock s-foils in attack position! –  Ian Pugsley Oct 4 '11 at 15:26
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I think it's just an another example of Lucas not knowing how space works... except in this case instead of looking kinda incompetent, he looks kinda awesome. –  erdiede Oct 4 '11 at 16:43
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You have to admit that George is good at stuff that looks awesome. –  DJClayworth Dec 9 '11 at 15:48

5 Answers 5

up vote 41 down vote accepted

Those wings are called S-Foil

Historically, S-foils had been developed to address overheating issues on wing-based starfighters. Because of the proximity of engines and weapons systems to narrow wiring that fit inside the thin wings, an excess of heat could cause mechanical meltdowns that would be devastating to the capacity of the fighters to function.

also

They [X-wing] had two pairs of wing-like strike-foils, or S-foils, mounted at the rear of the craft on opposite sides. The foils on each side locked in place flush against each other; during combat, however, the foils were folded out to increase the spread coverage of the laser cannons mounted at the tips of the foils. This gave the craft its distinctive "X"-like appearance when viewed from the front or rear. The cannons on some earlier models could not be fired with the S-foils in locked position, perhaps as a safety feature. During hyperspace travel, the S-foils remained locked to conserve energy.
T-65 X-wing on starwars wikia.

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For an in-world explanation, I would posit the theory that the wings close for normal travel and hyperspace for the purpose of strength and stability in the wings and they open during combat for two reasons. First is that by spreading the blasters apart they give it a greater field of fire and greater chance of hitting the enemy. Second, by moving the engines a bit further apart it could aid in making the craft more maneuverable and better able to change its angle of attack with less thrust.

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It is also worth noting that X-wings DO fly in atmosphere on a number of occasions. So it is possible that the standard formation for flight/hyperspace is just a 'well, it does decrease stress slightly, so why not' kind of thing, and the flat form is really intended for atmospheric conditions. –  DampeS8N Oct 4 '11 at 15:06
    
@DampeS8N: it's worth noting that TIE fighters fly in atmosphere too...though the EU does point out that they have issues with maneuverability. –  Jeff Oct 4 '11 at 15:11
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"Even a brick can fly if you put a big enough engine on it" (Said about the F-4 Phantom –  BBlake Oct 4 '11 at 20:48
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Also think about landing. It's easier to land and maneuver a plane with flat wings. –  jcolebrand Oct 4 '11 at 21:00
    
Also, the x-wing has it's blasters in 4 points instead of 2. This increases the probability of a hit on the target. –  user2999 Oct 5 '11 at 20:17

I've read that the closed position was required for atmospheric flight.

The Z-95 was the X-Wing's precursor. There were likely many design choices in the Z-95 that made it cheaper to design the X-Wing as a transformer then to redesign it from scratch.

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The reason may be for accuracy. According to the X-wing series by Michael A. Stackpole, the weapons are calibrated to a certain distance (usually a few hundred meters). It seems to me that it would be most effective for these four blasters not to fire in two closely grouped pairs, but to be more spread out.

Additionally, the purpose of the wings coming together likely makes atmospheric flight easier (more airplane-like), so the reason for them being separate in attack position may be less significant than the reason for them being together in standard flight mode.

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Landing? As they are never shown flying in the atmosphere in a lift generating motion. They seem to take off more like a harrier(with endless fuel). So never any need for them to generate lift. Pretty good question. I think the model builders just came up with something cool and lucas said ok.

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Landing would explain the flat wing configuration but not the X-wing while flying. Thanks. –  Wikis May 1 '12 at 4:33

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