Winglets: A Novel Design with a Purpose
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Winglets: A Novel Design with a Purpose

Winglets: A Novel Design with a Purpose, Winglets and fuel efficiency in aircraft

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In the present state of aviation both in general aviation and military aviation we may be familiar with the upward curve tip at the end of aircraft wings which decades before seemed to draw some attention as to why it was there that aside from the striking appearance which we could compare with the way designer clothing catches our eyes, may have caught us in awe asking has it been there for a reason or just for shifting our way of looking at airplanes the traditional way (without it). For people working in the aircraft industry, the logic behind it may be easily passed along to be appreciated but for average people who may take a commuter plane once in a while and look at it overhead as it flies immersed in the mundane calling of daily life, their curiosity may have dissipated in time like the many questions in life we left unanswered with the sole notion that it had been there for quite a time and nobody cares about the purpose behind it.

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The flight of birds had been there for our own examination for centuries and it was with such inspiration from nature that mankind earned its wings. Winglets had been thought about as a concept as early as the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers but never really found some serious consideration until the 1970s when prices of aviation fuel necessitate its application. Dr. Richard Whitcomb, an aeronautical engineer at NASA Langley Research Center took advantage of combined benefits of wind tunnel tests and computers to come up with a viable solution that predicted improved cruising efficiency for aircraft from 6% to 9%. The first winglet prototype tested on a military Boeing 707 through a winglet flight test program at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in 1979-1980 yielded positive results with a rate of 6.5% increased fuel mileage (longer range and lesser fuel consumption).

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The mechanics of an aircraft wing is such that the upper surface was designed to generate negative pressure and positive pressure below as the aircraft moves forward allowing for the lifting force (lift) to take effect. The difference in pressures however gives rise to wing tip vortices that slows the aircraft’s movement forward (drag) requiring more pulling power for the engines (thrust) hence the increased fuel consumption. Winglets reduce drag by dissipating vortices in the wing tips thereby increasing fuel mileage in the process. Three decades after the first winglets were tested on the Boeing 707 and we either live to appreciate its purpose (if you are an aircraft owner/operator) or we merely appreciate the reduced airfare (if the fuel-saving technique does have its effect on tickets) and just like every piece of technology we have at present we may have less consideration as to how it works just so long as we live our lives easier. Looking at winglets this time at least we know.

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Comments (13)

Nice post kababayan! :)

excellent report

Interesting . . .

Excellent job as usual Will.

Unique design. Interesting read, thanks will.

Great article - often wondered why they were there but never asked. It seems that Boeing 737's have some of the most pronounced winglets.

And you can add them to your paper airplane too

Very well presented Will. Good info :)

Very well researched. fascinating post, Will. thank you.

very interesting facts about the inspiration from nature (birds) thanks for sharing

Great to know that. Birds are good models to show good flying.

Very nice!

I now know the proper name for winglets. I like the sound of that and the function is even better to know thanks to your great info. Voted up.