New aircraft models have noticeable design changes, especially when you look outside the window. The prominent bent tip of the wing actually has significance to the whole aerodynamics of the plane.
Winglets vs. Vortex Drag
Winglets are designed to give planes a faster and smoother flight. How? They minimize vortex drag. When planes fly, air flows above and below the wings. When this happens, a vortex forms at the back of wings’ tips. You can actually see a vortex sometimes when you look at the wing from the window, specifically during rainy weather. The vortex trails behind the wing.
A vortex seems to be an amazing spectacle. However, it makes the plane exert extra effort. It is the reason for a risky drag, which forces the plane to use more fuel for additional power.
Now, winglets help the wings avoid vortex drag. They enable less air to surround the wings, preventing the formation of swirls that lead to drag. Aside from a smoother flight, winglets also help for a smoother take off. They are actually inspired by the actual wings of a bird. The feathers on the wing normally become upturned while flying.
Winglets, starting from smaller sizes, became popular in the 1980s. But, as time progresses, winglets become larger, more bent and more complex. These aviation innovations are products of continuous aerodynamic research, which includes digital modelling and spending time in wind tunnels.
Types of Winglets
Winglets have different varieties for functional and aesthetic purposes:
Among the major types of winglets, this one is the simplest. The tip just sharply bends upwards. The first aircraft that had these winglets is Bombardier’s Challenger 601 last 1987.
This follows a smooth big curve. It is made for long flights. Why? This type of winglet is the most effective in reducing drag. So, it gives the plane a reduction of 4% in burning fuel. An example is 737NG of Aviation Partners Boeing.
This winglet type is an upgrade from the simple blended design. It is big and has a curve like the original kind. But, it has sharper edges. It was first used for Airbus’s A320. The similar design to Aviation Partners’ blended type started a lawsuit.
Now, this one looks so feminine and elegant. The wingtip is bent into two directions: upward and downward. The upper part is larger than the lower one. This design idea aims to provide additional 1.5% reduction in burning fuel compared to the blended type. It was used originally by Boeing’s 737 MAX.
With the ongoing unwritten competition for the best wingtip design for fuel-burn reduction, Aviation Partners created an upgrade for the dual-feather type. The only difference is bigger and even pointier tips. The result resembles a bird’s claw. The design aims for another 2% saving in fuel.
Aviation Partners just keeps on moving forward with more complex innovations in wingtip technology. The Spiroid winglet is extremely bent to form a big hole. Its goal is a whopping 10% in fuel savings.
Air travel is considered to be safer than land transportation due to minimal cases of accidents. But, that became possible because of nonstop aviation research. All parts of an aircraft, even the simplest ones like the wingtip, are essential for a safe flight. One tiny flaw can lead to a disaster.