Airbus prepares to test A320 family winglets

Los Angeles
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Airbus will begin flight-testing winglets for the A320 family next month to evaluate various designs under development with US carrier JetBlue Airways.

Airbus says it will flight-test two different “wingtip devices” on its A320 development aircraft next month. JetBlue will also provide an aircraft for part of the flight-test programme, while Wichita, Kansas-based Winglet Technology will provide one of the designs.

The first set of wingtip devices arrived at the A320 final assembly line in Toulouse at the beginning of February, with the second set due to arrive soon. Airbus says it will decide this year “on the way forward”, once the results of the evaluation are completed.

The design from Winglet Technologies is believed to be an elliptical winglet shape, which, according to documents covered by its original US Patent Office submission, is shaped to ensure “that the wing loading closely approximates the ideal lift distribution”.

The company, which declines to comment on the Airbus evaluation, was supported in the development of the concept in 2003 by the Kansas Technology Enterprises Company Applied Research Marketing Fund to the tune of $50,000 when the elliptical winglet was associated with potential flight tests on a Bombardier Challenger 600.

Although outwardly resembling the Aviation Partners-developed blended winglet, which equips various Boeing types, the Winglet Technologies design differs in that it follows a generally elliptical curve as it extends from its inner end where it attaches to the wingbox, to its outer end. How close this configuration is replicated on the test A320 will only be confirmed when Airbus unveils the test aircraft. By contrast, the Aviation Partners design extends from the “blended” curved attachment at the wingbox tip into a straight upward section. The patent document claims the “present invention also includes the discovery that the winglets will provide reduced induced drag when the winglets have a generally parabolic shape”.

GUY NORRIS / LOS ANGELES