‘Active’ winglets: More than a pretty fin

October 10, 2012

Active

A new type of winglet being tested on a Cirrus SR22 is meant to do much more than just look good.

Tamarack Aerospace group has developed and patented “active” winglets equipped with internal sensors and control surfaces that deflect automatically to improve wing efficiency during all phases of flight. Designers say active winglets can increase aircraft fuel efficiency by 5 percent or more, decrease structural loads, and extend airframe service life.

“We expect to have an STC (supplemental type certificate) by the end of the year,” said Brian Willett, vice president of sales and marketing for the Tamarack, a 15-employee engineering and design firm in Sandpoint, Idaho, which developed its ATLAS (Active Technology Load Alleviation System) winglets for the SR22—and plans to seek FAA approval to install them on other kinds of aircraft in the future. “Once we get ATLAS certified—and manufacturers see the numbers we’re seeing in testing—we feel that they’ll want to rapidly get involved.”

Current “passive” winglets increase the aspect ratio of aircraft wings and provide greater efficiency in cruise. But the downside is that they can increase aerodynamic loads on the wings, especially in turbulence, and the structural supports required for the heavier loads add weight.

ATLAS winglets sense increasing aerodynamic loads and instantly move to counteract them, effectively “turning off” the winglets. (The winglets aren’t connected to the aircraft controls.)

Willett said Tamarack hasn’t set a retail price for ATLAS winglets.

The SR22 test aircraft with the winglets installed will be on display at AOPA Aviation Summit in Palm Springs, Calif., Oct. 11 through 13.

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.