What Are Winglets and Sharklets and How Are They Different?

When observing commercial aircraft as they conduct operations, one may notice that there are a variety of small surfaces that are commonly implemented on the ends of wings. These surfaces at the end of wingtips are known as winglets or Sharklets depending on the manufacturer of the aircraft, and they serve to reduce drag for the means of achieving more optimal flight. To better understand the role that winglets and Sharklets serve, as well as their difference, we will provide a brief overview of each.

In order for an aircraft to achieve and maintain flight, they rely on their wings and their effect on aerodynamics. As an aircraft moves forward in the air, the shape of their wings will cause a pressure difference to form above and below the structure. As the air pressure below the wing is greater than that above it, lift will be produced, resulting in the aircraft being pushed upwards in the air. While this method of operation is crucial for standard flight, the design of wing structures makes it so that spiraling vortices are created as the two varying pressure zones come into contact with each other.

Vortices are detrimental for a variety of reasons, primarily being a major source of drag which causes aircraft to slow down. With reduced speed, an increased amount of fuel must be burned to maintain standard speeds, making flight operations less cost-effective and less environmentally friendly. When conducting research into how the negative effects of vortices may be combated, engineers found that modifying wingtips could allow for the size of vortices to be mitigated.

During the 1973 Middle-Eastern oil crisis, NASA partnered with manufacturing companies such as Boeing to experiment with aircraft design to find a way in which aircraft fuel could be used more efficiently, and studying birds of prey paved the way for testing wingtips that curved backwards. Upon further testing, such structural designs proved to increase lift while reducing drag, and the 1988 Boeing 747-400 was the first to feature winglets. Soon after, Gulfstream followed with their blended winglet, and the technology quickly spread as an industry standard.

In 2002, the European Union initiated the Aircraft Wing with Advanced Technology Operation (AWIATOR) program which sought further ways in which drag and aircraft fuel consumption could be reduced. After some years of experimentation, Airbus released their own variation of winglets in 2011, those of which they called Sharklets. When comparing the two different structures to one another, little difference may be found outside of cosmetic appearance. As such, both devices provide the exact same benefit of reducing the detrimental effects of wing pressure differences and minimizing the amount of vortices that result from standard flight operations.

As winglets and Sharklets both can reduce the amount of fuel that is consumed for a standard flight, having such designs for your aircraft is crucial for the sake of saving money and fuel. ASAP NSN Hub is a website owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, and we are a premier distributor of new, used, obsolete, and hard-to-find items that cater towards a variety of applications and industries. Take your time in exploring our vast offerings and catalogs, and our team of industry experts is always readily on standby 24/7x365 to assist you through the purchasing process as necessary.

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April 30, 2021

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