Just days after my recent posting on why people don’t like scientists, now I find myself ready to kiss one.
For those of us who fly a lot and feel guilty about our carbon impact from doing so, we can thank a small technology for reducing that impact a bit. When I first started seeing wingtips that curved up at the ends of airplane wings, I must admit that I thought they were mostly a fashion feature to make the aging airplanes look newer and sleeker.
It turns out that those little wingtips significantly improve the flying efficiency of airplanes and, according to the manufacturers, have saved 2 billion gallons of jet fuel since they were invented in the 1990s. As more and more planes get outfitted with them, the prediction is for the savings to climb to 7 billion gallons by 2015.
How do they work? Airplanes (and birds) are able to fly because of “lift.” The surface of the top of a wing is longer than the bottom due to a curved design, so the air has to travel faster across the top of the wing than across the bottom to get to the other side. That creates lower pressure above than below, resulting in the wing being pushed up.
The part I never really thought about is that the air from above and below have to meet up again. Because the two flows are traveling at different speeds, that reunion causes turbulence (much like the family reunions we have all experienced), and turbulence causes drag. A lot of this drag takes place at the wingtip. Enter the Blended Winglet Technology:
Obviously we all need to do our part to save the planet. At the same time, I recognize that I could NEVER personally save 2 billion gallons of fuel, no matter how many times I choose to bike or walk to the store. Appropriate applications of science and technology can make some of the big changes that are necessary. This is also a good reminder not to just focus on new technologies, but to work on improving the old stuff in the meantime. One of the best things about these winglets is that they can be affixed to old planes, so the savings in fuel can be gotten without having to invest the money and resources in an entirely new plane and without waiting for the algae-based jet fuel that is in the works.
So if you are a scientist and you see me walking towards you down the street, look out. I just might come up and kiss you.
Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala