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Old-School Winglets Are Getting a Second Life Helping Modern Jets Fly More Efficiently

The winglets also give the jets extended range, which means many flights can be accomplished without refueling.

Aviation Partners winglet Courtesy of Aviation Partners

The laws of aerodynamics haven’t changed since Frederick W. Lanchester patented the winglet in 1897, so planes equipped with the aero feature enjoy reduced drag and can climb higher and faster, reaching elevations where thinner air enables more fuel-efficient flight. The extended range also means many flights can be accomplished without refueling. But not all private jets are designed with winglets, a fact that’s engendered a cottage industry of retrofitters adding them to older aircraft—a process backed by requiring structural testing and an FAA supplemental type certificate for modified aircraft. 

And the retrofit market is soaring. “We saw unprecedented demand during the pandemic because a lot of the new entries into private aviation buy used aircraft first,” says Gary Dunn, president of Aviation Partners, Inc., which has refitted over 10,000 commercial and private aircraft with Blended Winglets. The aerodynamic accent’s only drawbacks are the increased weight that comes from reinforcing the longer wing, two to five weeks of downtime and the expense, which can range from $250,000 to $600,000. 

Aviation Partners Falcon 50 N789JC
Aviation Partners Falcon 50 N789JC Chad Slattery/Aviation Partners

Tamarack Aerospace Group claims its Performance Smartwing provides up to 33 percent greater efficiency (under optimal conditions) when installed on the Cessna Citation CJ series. The design incorporates an active flap that responds to turbulence within fractions of a second to smoothen the ride.

To prove the Smartwing’s potential, Tamarack is attempting “as many point-to-point records as we can,” says president Jacob Klinginsmith, citing the recent record that its Beechcraft King Air 350 made from Spokane, Wash., to Orlando, Fla., and then a second flight from Orlando to just outside of Las Vegas. 

Although Tamarack sees a sizable retrofit market for the King Air 200 and 350, it has a much larger target in sight—the Airbus A320 narrow-body airliner. Klinginsmith says a prototype for the A320 winglet program could be up and flying in seven months, though the company is still working on details surrounding the demonstrator. 

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