The Winglets: What are they for?

The jet age which started in the 1950s has marked many transformations in the aviation industry where the aircraft have reached high speeds. This came with challenges in reaching aerodynamic efficiency. One of the parts of an aircraft is the wingtips or winglets which are located at the end of the wing of a commercial aircraft.

In the early stages of wingtips, the wingtips were blended or named cutoff or rounded wingtips. And this type was affecting lift to drag ratio. The lift to drag ratio is a term that refers to the aircraft performance, it is the ratio of the total lift to drag that the aircraft induce. As the ratio gets higher the performance of aircraft.

@AIAA Journal

For this rounded wingtip, the vortex generated is high and by relation, more drag is induced thus fuel consumption is more. Moving on with the improvements in design the wingtips have been morphed or banked to a certain degree. This design has solved the issue of big vortex generation by deflecting air away from the tip as the following figure shows.

Winglets installed on the wing of a Boeing 737 NG

Moreover, the improvements in wingtip design made it to today’s raked wingtips. We nearly don’t see the morphed wingtips much on the new airliners such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or Boeing 777. Even the new A330 neo has been nearly raked and slightly morphed. 

British Airways Boeing 787-8 G-ZBJC wingtip | by StephenG88

The raked wingtips have claimed to have less vortex generation at the wingtip yet it increases lift as the wetted area (wing area which contacts the air) increases thus more fuel-efficient aircraft.

Pasquale Sforza, in Commercial Airplane Design Principles, 2014

The challenge with this wingtip design is the wingspan of the aircraft as we see as the increase in the horizontal area yes will generate more lift but will sacrifice the material weight which will increase. Moreover, it will face constraints in the gate, taxiway, and runway width. Therefore, the new Boeing 777x has implemented the retractable raked wingtips to maximize the lift in takeoff, climbing, and cursing while it can serve in any airport around the world.


So, what do you think will be the next innovation in wing design or the next innovation will be the airport design to meet the demand?  

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