Winglets are now a mainstay in commercial aviation. However, their journey has come a long way over the decades. Even though they have been conceptualized for over a century, the 747-400 was the first commercial plane ever to feature these devices. Boeing highlights that the aircraft’s winglets increased its range by 3.5% over the 747-300. Currently, what are the primary different types of winglets? Let’s take a look.
Winglets are vertical extensions of wingtips. These innovations improve fuel efficiency and cruising range. They are created as small airfoils and reduce the aerodynamic drag associated with vortices that develop at the tips as the aircraft travels.
There are several different types of winglets. Here are the most popular variants:
These devices are noticeably short and are sloped upwards. They can be primarily seen on widebodies such as the Airbus A330 and A340 and 747-400. Unfortunately, with several aircraft that deploy these winglets retiring, it will be a rarity to spot them this decade.
Gulfstream pioneered blended winglets in the 1990s. However, they are most commonly in use by passengers on many Boeing jets, such as several 737s, along with most 757s and 767s.
According to The Points Guy, they are “blended” because they are designed with a smoother transition from the wing to the winglet. Along with extending range, Boeing states that they are proven to reduce drag, save fuel, cut carbon and nitrogen oxide emissions. Moreover, they reduce noise output.
Airbus introduced sharklets with its newer A320-family models. Despite the edgy name, the title is the primary difference with these winglets and Boeing’s blended offering. In fact, Airbus faced legal action over the patent of the design. Subsequently, the European manufacturer had to pay out following the dispute.
A changing industry
Altogether, airlines took on winglets out of necessity following the Middle-Eastern oil crisis. Fuel became extremely expensive, and carriers had to find ways to save as much money as possible. Subsequently, NASA worked with manufacturers to experiment with technology to make fuel last longer.
Ultimately, engineers turned to nature for a solution. They noticed that birds of prey had feathered wingtips that curved up and at the back of their wings. So, the industry applied this technique of generating lift and reducing drag.
A common goal
There are also several other inventions that predate modern wingtips. For instance, Airbus placed wingtip fences of its older A320 family aircraft. The A380 Also holds these. These handle vortices that come from the bottom of the wing. So, they have a physical barrier below and on top of it.
There are also “split scimitar winglets” on several Boeing 737 jets. These are also shaped below and above the wing. Notably, they are like blended winglets but have an added airfoil below the wing.
Several types also deploy raked wingtips. Here, the tip of the wing itself is swept back in comparison to the rest of the wing. The usage is similar to winglets and aircraft such as the 787 Dreamliner, some 777s, and the 747-8 have these designs.
Altogether, there are several different modifications of wingtips. However, blended and canted are two of the most distinct variants. They nonetheless all serve the key purpose of reducing drag and improving fuel efficiency.
What are your thoughts about the different types of wingtips? Let us know what you think in the comment section.