Not all airplanes have flat and smooth wings. Many of them feature wings that curve upwards at the end. Known as winglets, they are commonly found on commercial jets. Some of the world’s most popular commercial jets feature winglets. What are winglets exactly, and what purpose do they serve?
The Basics of Winglets
Winglets are vertically curbed tips on airplane planes. They’ve been around since the 1970s, during which they were invented by engineers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA engineers discovered that by adding curved tips to the wings, airplanes consumed less fuel. It wasn’t long until winglets became a common feature on airplanes. You can now find winglets on many commercial jets, particularly wide-body jets with a long range.
How Winglets Work
Even if you’ve seen them in the past, you may not know how winglets work. Winglets are designed to create air vortices over an airplane’s wings. Airplanes, of course, generate lift from their respective wings. As air flows under an airplane’s wings, it will create lift that keeps the airplane in the air. Winglets don’t prevent this from happening. Rather, they create air vortices that minimize drag and maximize lift.
Winglets essentially guide both low-pressure air and high-pressure air. Low-pressure air is that air traveling over an airplane’s wings, whereas high-pressure air is the air traveling under an airplane’s wings. Winglets guide both types of air into vortices, essentially swirling the air around the airplane’s wings. This action reduces drag and increases lift.
Benefits of Winglets
With winglets, airplanes are more efficient. They’ll consume less fuel, for instance. While there are electric airplanes being developed, nearly all commercial jets consume fuel. Winglets allow for the production of more efficient airplanes, though, by reducing their fuel expenditures.
Because they promote greater fuel efficiency, winglets can increase the range of airplanes. Airplanes with winglets can fly longer distances than their counterparts. NASA, in fact, says that airplanes with winglets have a 7% longer range on average.
Winglets can even protect airplanes from physical damage. It will reduce the stress on an airplane’s wings, for instance. Winglets will guide the low-pressure and high-pressure air around the airplane’s wings so that they are exposed to less stress. As a result, airplanes are less likely to sustain wing damage if they have winglets.