As a Professional Pilot, my attention was always drawn to airplanes with winglets. First for the looks - to me, they always looked great! But in my mind growing up as a corporate pilot an airplane with winglets was synonymous to high performance. As a kid, I loved the Lear 31’s and their pointy winglets and they definitely got my attention when Cessna came up with winglets for the Citation X - how could one ever ‘improve’ on the performance of a X?
Two years ago I have joined Michael Goulian on his Red Bull Air Race Team as a Coordinator. My job included all Team Logistics; travel arrangements, schedules, airplane repositioning and so forth. But it wasn’t long until, as a passionate pilot and racer, I started to participate on Airplane Development and Flight Testing.
The Red Bull Air Race is an electrifying racing category, and it’s definitely the ultimate motorsports series in the sky. The racing consists of a race track marked by air-filled pylons, over water or land, and is a FAI-sanctioned event that competes in the greatest cities all around the world. The tracks we fly could be compared to a road-course, with straight-aways, chicanes and what we call Vertical Turn Maneuvers - where the airplane usually has to reverse it’s course by flying as tight radius as possible. On simplified terms, the airplane spends almost as much time on HIGH G and HIGH AOA conditions on the turning maneuvers as it does on LOW AOA during straightaways and chicanes.
Since the series returned in 2014 and a standardized power plant was introduced for all competitors, the only edge that can be gained is now through aerodynamic improvements to the platforms we already flew. With our own tools and a virtual model of the airplane, we are able to estimate the optimal line to be flown around a given racetrack. We use that same tool to determine gains and losses to performance from intended modifications to the aircraft.
Winglets were in our bucket list since 2014. The idea on the racing environment is the absolute same; reduce induced drag; increase efficiency. The goal, instead of fuel savings or increased range, is instead to carry more speed out of a tight corner then you otherwise would, but the principle is exactly the same. When we started designing our version of what we believe is an optimal racing winglet we bumped on what everyone else does: structural integrity and wing bending moment! According to Red Bull’s Rulebook, we are allowed to design any version of wingtips we desire, as long as we can prove the design will stay within airplane manufacturers constraints for structural integrity.
The bottom line was that we had to scratch many design features to accomodate that requirement but as it turns out, our winglets still made our airplane nearly a full second faster, during an average 1 minute lap in a race-track. From most of the modifications we did, that was one of the biggest results we achieved. We still wonder “what could have been” had we been able to build the most optimal winglet design, without having to worry about structural modifications.
And that’s what struck me as an absolute brilliant idea when I came across Tamarack’s ATLAS. They did not stop on the structural limitations barrier, and went beyond that to find an aerodynamic solution for a problem. The Active Winglet system is the answer to all of our questions on how to design a 100% optimum winglet design without having to redesign the entire wing structure.
I had the honor to go for a CJ ride with Nick and Brian over beautiful Alpine, WY - and for me there were absolutely no surprises! The additional performance is obviously there, along with all the other benefits brought by winglets, like for example, lateral stability. To watch the Active Winglets operate was mind-blowing, and it felt like solving a riddle. It was a great “AHA!” moment for me as an aviation gear-head, high-performance flying passionate and aerodynamic enthusiast. I’m glad and honored I got to see that!
When we landed, the only thing I could think was: Imagine how longer of a life can the entire CJ fleet enjoy by using these and being 20-30% more efficient? How many more people would we be able to get into flying jets because of the savings generated by those?
My thoughts go much deeper than the simple number of pounds saved on a trip or minutes to climb saved - this can and should go as deep as making aviation possible for many more and for much longer.
Pablo C. Branco, Goulian Aerosports Team Coordinator