Winglets from NASA are vertical extensions on airplane wings that help reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency.

Benefits

  • Reduced drag
  • Improved fuel efficiency

Applications

  • Aeronautics
  • Rocket design

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 12: Responsible Production & Consumption

The Challenge

When an airplane is in flight, spirals of air are created at the tip of the wing. This causes extra drag, which increases fuel consumption. These spirals must dissipate before other planes fly through the air, increasing the time between take-offs on a runway.

Innovation Details

Winglets are the upturned ends of airplane wings. The shape minimizes drag by reducing the size of the vortices created at the end of the wing. In addition, as the vortices hit the winglet some of the force is converted to thrust, which helps to move the plane. In essence, winglets serve the same function as lengthening the airplane wings. Longer wingspans are more efficient because they allow planes to fly for longer at cruising speeds. However, longer wings means added weight, which uses more fuel. Winglets offer an excellent solution by reducing drag without adding too much weight, which also reduces fuel consumption.

Image: NASA / Copyright © - All rights reserved

Biomimicry Story

Birds spend much of their time in the air, so the longer they can fly and the less energy they can use, the better. Soaring birds have upturned wing-tips that maximize lift with a minimum wing length, improving performance and saving energy.