Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Ever Notice Those Curvy Wingtips on Planes? NASA Invented Those

A bit of a geeky post for today, but hey, if you’ve hung around here long enough you know that I live for this kind of stuff.
I was reading an article recently on the NASA website and I fell down the rabbit hold into the invention of “winglets”.  Those are those little pieces on the wing of airliners that look sort of like vertical stabilizers.  Many years ago, a plane enthusiast friend of mine had told me there were used for fuel economy.  He was pretty knowledgeable so I let it go at that.
Then I stumbled across that NASA  sight and got a chance to read the entire history of winglets.  It’s a fascinating read and I highly recommend it.  However, if you just want some of the cool highlights, I can provide them here.
  • They are indeed for fuel economy
  • The diminish induced drag by 20 percent and improve the overall aircraft lift-drag ratio by 6 to 9 percent
  • Southwest Airline’s use of the technology on their 737-700 fleet saves the company 100,000 gallons of fuel each year
  • Winglets offer between 4-6% fuel savings
  • Because less fuel is burned, emissions go down as well
  • Winglets provide up to a 6 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and an 8 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide as well
  • In 2010 it was estimated the winglets had saved 2 billion gallons of jet fuel and reduced emission of 21.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions

That’s pretty incredible stuff for a little vertical tip on the wing!  There is a lot to be learned from this.  I mean, who would look at one of these things and then immediately decide they were complete and utter game changers in so many ways?  For me, it’s the perfect example of why I’m a skeptic but always willing to change my mind if you can produce validated science.

A big thank you to NASA and a big thank you to the winglet inventor aeronautical engineer Richard Whitcomb!

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