What are Winglets? Essay

What are Winglets? Essay

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A winglet, like everything else on an airplane, represents a compromise between numerous factors, including, cost, structure and performance. A winglet is a wing tip extension, its purpose to improve aerodynamic efficiency. “The airflow around winglets is complicated, and winglets have to be carefully designed and tested for each aircraft.” (How Things Work: Winglets). The invention of the winglet allows a reduction in drag acting upon the aircraft by converting the airflow at a wingtip into a forward force, rather than an upward force. The size, shape and angle of which a winglet is mounted to the wing, depends on the aircraft type and size. A winglet improves the overall performance of the aircraft and is beneficial to the aviation industry in that, the aircraft will have an improved fuel economy, a reduced need of engine maintenance checks, the ability to carry a greater payload and will be better for the environment.
The idea of winglets was developed by F.W. Lancaster a British aerodynamicist in the late 1800s. However, it was not until an energy crisis in 1976, causing the price of fuel to skyrocket, that Richard Whitcomb, a NASA aerodynamicist, took Lancaster’s concept to the next step. Whitcomb soon published a comparison between a wing with a winglet and the same wing with a simple wing extension to increase its span. This paper showed significant improvement from the simple wing extension to the wing with the winglet. The winglet caused a reduction in drag and an improvement in the lift/drag ratio. Whitcomb proved that in theory the winglet would work, but it was Burt Rutan, an American aerospace engineer that went ahead and designed his ‘Vari-Eze’ to incorporate the ‘Whitcomb Wings’. “Rutan takes winglets from the drawi...


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...dvantage of the drag reduction by throttling back and saving fuel.
Payload: Due to an improved fuel economy, winglets enable an aircraft to carry less fuel and more payload. Allowing the company to save money on fuel and make more out of the payload.
Environment: The lower fuel burn means lower emissions. Winglets are recorded to have resulted in decreases of CO2 by as much as 6% and in NOX by 8%.
“Drag reduction is a high-priority goal of [aircraft] designers.” (textbook, pg 25) By reducing the spanwise flow at the wingtip, winglets are therefore able to weaken vortices and significantly decrease drag. During cruise, minimal drag means maximum performance. Winglets are now quite common in the aviation industry, making them, “…one of the most successful examples of NASA aeronautical innovation being utilized around the world on all types of aircraft.” (nasa.gov).

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