In flight, airplane wings produce dramatic wingtip vortices. These vortices reduce the amount of lift a 3D wing produces relative to a 2D one. How much they influence the lift depends on both the strength and proximity of the vortex. The stronger and closer it is, the more detrimental its effect. One way airplane designers reduce the effects of wingtip vortices is by adding an extra section, called a winglet, to the end of the wing. Among other effects, the winglet moves the wingtip vortex further away from the main wing, which reduces its influence and allows the airplane to regain some of the lift that would otherwise be lost. (Image credits: A. Wielandt et al., source)
First off… love your blog! I know very little about physics, but love reading about it. Could you potentially explain what the little upturned ends of wings do? looking on wikipedia is see this: “There are several types of wingtip devices, and although they function in different manners, the intended effect is always to reduce the aircraft’s drag by partial recovery of the tip vortex energy.” huh?
Adding a winglet modifies the end conditions, both by redirecting the wingtip vortices away from the underside of the wing and by reducing the strength of the vortex. Both actions cause the winglet-equipped wing to produce more lift near the outboard ends than a wing without winglets.
But why, you might ask, does the Wikipedia explanation talk about reducing drag? Since a finite wing produces less lift than an infinite one, finite wings must be flown at a higher angle of attack to produce equivalent lift. Increasing the angle of attack also increases drag on the wing. (If you’ve ever stuck a tilted hand out a car window at speed, then you’re familiar with this effect.) Because the winglet recovers some of the lift that would otherwise be lost, it allows the wing to be flown at a lower angle of attack, thereby reducing the drag. Thus, overall, adding winglets improves a wing’s efficiency. (Photo credit: C. Castro)
Quite the gorgeous window shot on climb out from Dallas Love Field. I love taking the first flight out in the morning. Sure you gotta get up before dawn, however the TSA line tends to be shorter, and the airport is usually quieter. The real payoff is being treated to a breath taking sunset from the air. Photo by Flickr user jayRaz.