The next time you take a flight on a jet, you will notice that their wings are not entirely flat. Wings are the primary lift-generating airfoils on an airplane. They come in various sizes and designs, but except for a few smaller planes, most wing designs include an angled piece at the end called an aircraft wingtip. While small in size as compared to other components on an aircraft, wingtip design plays a significant role in the magnitude and drag of vortices. In this blog, we will discuss the several shapes of wingtips and how their differences affect flight.
1. Squared-off wingtips terminate in a flat shape and are the simplest geometry used in wingtip design. These wingtips lead to higher drag than other designs, but they are superior at decreasing yaw and sideslip.
2. Raked wingtips curve backward and have a greater wing sweep than the rest of the wing. These are commonly found on Boeing commercial aircraft like the 777 and 767 to improve takeoff performance and fuel efficiency. Raked wingtips accomplish these improved metrics by increasing the effective wing aspect ratio, which is the ratio of the wingspan length over the chord length.
3. Blended wingtips feature a seamless transition with the wings and are found on an increasing number of modern aircraft. The benefits of blended wingtips include decreased drag, reduced carbon dioxide emissions, and deeper takeoff thrusts, leading to noise reduction. They are typically made of carbon fiber and are much lighter than other wingtip options.
4. Rounded wingtips were commonly found on fighter planes in World War II, like the Messerschmitt Me 109 F. The operating principle was that a rounded wingtip would mitigate induced drag, and while this was true, the benefits decreased significantly with an increased speed.
5. Hoerner wingtips, named after the researcher that studied the performance effects of various wingtips after World War II, became the most technologically advanced option at the time. The design is based on the six qualities that affect performance, according to Hoerner. These factors include the need for the wingtip to be thin, with a sharp trailing edge and convex underside. Using this unique design, the effective wingspan could be increased without adding actual length to the wing. The output of Hoerner's design is an increased range with no additional fuel cost, increased airspeed, a reduced distance needed for takeoff, improved stability of the aircraft, and a lower stall speed. They are mostly found today on smaller aircraft like Cessna and Piper planes.
6. Canted wingtips are much shorter than other designs and are most commonly employed on wider-bodied aircraft like the A330 and 747-400. These were the first wingtips ever installed on a commercial aircraft, making their debut in 1989.
7. Spiral wingtips, while not formally in use yet, are experimental wingtips based on the geometry of a bird's feathers. The preliminary data suggests that this design could improve the effective range of a jet engine by 9% if manufactured similarly to the model.
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