Why do some aircraft feature a small vertical section at the tip of their wings? Well, those upturned tips are called winglets, additions to the wing that are designed to prevent vortices from forming. In this blog, we’ll explore what winglets are, and why they are so important.
The vortices created by wings are essentially miniature tornadoes, formed by the high pressure on the lower surface of the wing that creates a natural airflow that makes its way to the wingtip and curls upward around it. When the flow around the wingtips streams out behind the aircraft while it is in flight, a vortex is formed. These small twisters drain speed from the aircraft, and can be strong enough to actually flip an aircraft if not careful.
This is where winglets come in. The shape of the winglet prevents the airflow from over and under the wing from meeting, preventing vortices from forming. This in turn reduces drag on the aircraft, which results in a slightly faster cruising speed. The greatest advantage winglets offer however, is in fuel savings. In 1976, after that decade’s fuel crisis, NASA aerodynamicist Richard Whitcomb published a paper comparing a wing with a winglet versus one with a simple extension to increase its wingspan. In aerodynamic tests, the wing with a winglet experienced roughly 20% less drag than the wing without. Less drag meant less fuel expended, which meant lower fuel expenses, and cheaper airline taxes.
One major engineering advantage of winglets is that they effectively increase the wing’s aspect ratio, the relationship between its span and its chord (the distance from leading edge to the trailing edge). A longer wing with a higher aspect ratio will provide similar benefits, but longer wings are prone to flexing and need to be strengthened, which adds weight. Winglets provide the effects of an increased aspect ratio, without having to extend the wingspan.
Today, most modern airliners use winglets. The Airbus A319 and A320 have small upper and lower winglets, while the A330, A340, and Boeing’s 747-400 have conventional upper winglets. Boeing’s Business Jet, a derivative of the 737, uses eight foot tall winglets with a curving transition from wing into winglet.
At Paragon Purchasing, owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, we can help you find all the winglet parts for the aerospace, civil aviation, and defense industries. We’re always available and ready to help you find all the parts and equipment you need, 24/7-365. For a quick and competitive quote, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 1-914-359-2001.
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