How These Simple Scimitar Winglets Make the 737 a Whole New Plane

Illustration for article titled How These Simple Scimitar Winglets Make the 737 a Whole New Plane

In what will be its first widespread commercial use, Split Scimitar Winglets have officially been giving the go-ahead to grace United Boeing 737-800s all across the country. While winglets themselves are nothing new, this more aerodynamic incarnation should cut fuel costs by 2%—in other words, pushing their total winglet-related savings to $200 million.

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Illustration for article titled How These Simple Scimitar Winglets Make the 737 a Whole New Plane

Inspired by the scimitar, the new winglets retrofit a blended ventral fin to the plane's wings, essentially making it look like two very thin (and presumably self-loathing) dolphins jammed themselves head first into either side of the plane. Because it makes use of both the split/ventral singlet design and the high-performance scimitar tips, United has managed a cruise performance gain of 30-40%. So how do these winglets manage to reduce so much drag?

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Because winglets curve upward, the higher air pressure on the wing's lower surface flows toward the tip and curls with the winglet. Since the air is pushed upward, this reduces the vortex and subsequent energy loss that is created by air flowing around the wingtip. The split design of the new ones, then, further reduce the vortices formed behind the wing, which in turn further reduces energy loss.

Illustration for article titled How These Simple Scimitar Winglets Make the 737 a Whole New Plane

You'll start seeing the entire Boeing 737 fleet being retrofitted with the fancy new winglets sometime early next year. [Air & Space Mag]

Image: Scimitar profile from Aviationpartners.com

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DISCUSSION

It strikes me that there has been little styling innovation since the first commercial jetliner debuted in 1952. I'm sure the technology has grown by leaps and bounds, but if you were to see this plane today you would think its quite similar to brand new models, maybe besides the way the engines are mounted in the wings.

Compare that to the auto transportation industry, if you look at cars from the 1950's and the cars of today they look completely different in most cases. I wonder why airline industry hasn't changed much. Maybe its because of the cost that goes into design and production compared to that of a car. I'm sure its a lot more difficult to innovate miles above the surface of the earth going nearly the speed of sound. Maybe its consumer based as well, if a jet line tried something unconventional and people didn't want to fly on it I don't think the company could rebound from the cost of designing, creating the tooling, and producing a fleet of them.