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Spiroid Wingtip Technology: The best kept secret in aviation?

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EXTRA: Listen to the IAG Podcast with Aviation Partners CEO Joe Clark

Imagine an improvement in aerodynamics that might just have the potential to transform aviation.
spiroidmainpic.jpg
Joe Clark, CEO of Aviation Partners, believes he's got just the thing.

Spiroid tipped wing technology has the potential to save airlines a lot of fuel. Rather than the blended winglet, which has become the standard for all new Boeing 737s coming off the line, a Spiroid tipped wing differs by curving over to create a loop at the end of the wingtip.

According to Aviation Partners, "The Spiroid eliminates concentrated wingtip vortices, which represent nearly half the induced drag generated during cruise."

The technology isn't new. In fact, Dr. Louis Gratzer, Vice President of Technology for Aviation Partners has held the patent on the Spiroid tipped wings since 1992. When the winglets first flew on a Gulfstream II, Aviation Partners yielded a 10% improvement in fuel burn.

Spiroid_tipped_wing.jpgIn a short-haul environment, a 10% improvement with Spiroid tipped wings could be the stepping-stone to the next-generation in fuel efficiency.

For example, the new Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan has touted a 12-15% improvement in SFC (specific fuel consumption). Pratt & Whitney has always affirmed that the 12-15% improvement is separate from whatever gains in efficiency are delivered through aerodynamic refinement of the aircraft.

The coupling of these two technologies could deliver fuel burn improvements up to 22-25%, exceeding even the most optimistic of forecasts without radical changes in engine technology or aircraft configuration that might be required with an unducted fan or blended wing body for example.

From an aerodynamic standpoint, Clark added that the Spiroids are compatible for any swept wing aircraft. Testing on a Falcon 50 will begin in 3-4 months to further validate the technology.

"We need to get out and do the full flight test realm. We don't know what they are going to do in icing and in flutter," said Clark.

Following the Falcon 50 Spiroid flight tests later this year, Clark wants to test the technology on a Boeing 777. On the longer-range 777s, this would require the removal of the raked wing tips. Boeing's raked winglets provide a 5.5% improvement in fuel burn over the original 777-200/200ER/300 aircraft.

Boeing has estimated that for every 1% improvement in fuel burn, the 777 would gain 75 nm in range, 10 more passengers or 2,400 pounds of cargo.

A doubling in wingtip efficiency with Spiroids could open the door for new routes for airlines. The famed 'Kangaroo Route', the non-stop flight between Sydney and London could finally be in reach. The 777-200LR is able to make the journey one-way, but the route has never been economically viable because of the prevailing winds that limit payload capacity. A 4.5% improvement in fuel burn could, once and for all, open up the route.

Blended Winglets

Aviation Partners launched a joint venture with Boeing to bring winglets to the next generation 737 family. The use of winglets has expanded to include the 757 and soon the 767.

In the near term, a Boeing 767-300ER equipped with 11-foot tall Aviation Partners Boeing winglets is expected to take to the sky for the first time for FAA certification test during the second week of July. The addition of winglets on the 767 are expected to improve fuel burn around 5-7%.

The use of blended winglets on short-haul aircraft has been more challenging because the efficiency gains are primarily realized the longer an aircraft is in cruise phase.

In a podcast interview with IAG's Addison Schonland, Clark discussed that he his in similar talks with Airbus to bring winglet technology to its product line. Clark was unable to discuss specifics due to a non-disclosure agreement, but speculated that blended winglets on an A380 would be 17 to 18 feet tall.

Even before exploring the potential of Spiroid tipped wings on the 777, Clark also wants to put his blended winglets on the long-range twin.

"We have a plan for the 777. I think you'll be seeing something very shortly," added Clark.

Clark believes that blended winglets will be flying on the 777 within two years.

"We think the 777 will benefit substantially from our technology," Clark speculated. "The 777 is a great airplane and will be around a long, long time. With the advance in aerodynamics we won't really be able to improve the fuel consumption or reduce the drag by as much as some of the other airplanes, but we still think it'll be in the 3-4% range, which is a big number for an airplane like that."

Clark would love to go head-to-head with Boeing and take the raked wingtips off the 777 and try his own design.

"I'd love to compete with them on that."

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