What the F*&^ is a Sharklet? (Hint: It’s Good)

Winglets on airplanes are nothing new. We’ve seen them big and small on all kinds of airplanes. The most visible ones these days are the huge ones that you see on 737s, but what the heck is a sharklet? Well, that’s the Airbus-designed winglet for the A320, and here is an exclusive photo of it from Airbus.

Airbus Sharklets (or not)

Or maybe not. A sharklet is actually just a winglet with a cool name, and Airbus is going to put them on A320s, if the buyer so chooses. “But wait,” you say, “doesn’t the A320 already have winglets?” Well, sort of, but not really. Those little guys in the top photo above that go above and below the wing are technically wingtip fences. Yeah, I know. Whatever. But these new ones will look more like the big ones you see on a 737 that are blended into the wing and point up. Here’s an actual mock from Airbus of what they’ll look like.

Real Airbus Sharklets

The upshot here is that winglets are good. They reduce the wake given off by the wings and that means that the airplane is more fuel efficient – by 3.5% in fact. Hooray, environment saved, right?

Yeah, that’s a nice thing but there’s another big benefit here. Better fuel efficiency with the same sized fuel tanks means that each plane can go further on a tank of gas. In this case, it is estimated that an A320 can go another 110 miles on the same amount of gas.

That may not sound like a lot, but have you ever been on an A320 heading west and had to make an unexpected stop in Vegas? Salt Lake? JetBlue fliers know what I’m talking about. During the winter, the winds kick up and that means flights east are shorter with the wind at their back. But flights west have to go right into that wind and it can slow things down significantly to the point where they don’t have enough fuel to make it the whole way. So an extra 110 miles can really help on those long sectors.

There is one problem here. The winglets, or sharklets as they’re calling them, are only for new-build A320s. I guess there’s enough wing work required that so far they don’t have a program for retrofitting existing airplanes, but they say one is in the works. Hmm, that sucks. I’m sure some airlines want it now.

But it’s good for airlines like Air New Zealand which conveniently just announced an order for Airbus narrowbodies to replace their Boeing fleet. They’ll be getting sharklets first.

So one day, you’ll be spared that painful fuel stop on a domestic flight, and you’ll have to remember to thank those big, hulking sharklets bouncing at the end of the wing.

33 Responses to What the F*&^ is a Sharklet? (Hint: It’s Good)

  1. Gray says:

    Why didn’t Airbus install a blended winglet on many of their smaller aircraft originally? Does anyone know why they decided on the tortilla chip wing fence on the A300/18/9/20/21/80 and blended wiglets on the A330/40?

    It’d be intriguing to find the history of each type of winglet. Perhaps I am ignorant, but I am surprised they installed the tortilla chip wing fence on the super-modern A380, as opposed to blended winglets, which are all the rage right now.

  2. David SFeastbay says:

    Makes you wonder if Airbus is trying to make their planes look more like Boeing jets so people will think they are on a 737.

    I think I do like the ‘shark’ design better then the ‘wing fence’ design.

  3. Andrew says:

    What’s the purpose of the smaller “tortilla chip” style (love that term, I LOL’ed), is it a slight increase in efficiency as well or something else?

  4. A says:

    I’m surprised it has taken airbus this long to come up with a blended winglet for the 320 family. How long have those been around on their chief competitior 737? Better late than never I guess.

  5. It’s all about the mighty dollar, and it should be with these decisions. They have to figure the cost of the retrofit and the amount to be saved on fuel costs over a time period. If there isn’t an economic reason, the airlines won’t go after it.

    If there isn’t reason for the airlines, there will not be motivation for Airbus either. I have a sneaky suspicion the development costs for this are not small.

    I can’t remember the name of the company that started the blended winglet retrofits. But, does anyone know if they have a patent on the blended winglet? This could be a reason Airbus is using a different type of winglet with a different name.

  6. enplaned says:

    Cool name? How about dumb-&ss name? I understand the wish for Airbus to distinguish itself from the winglet, which is associated with the Boeing products (thought it wasn’t invented by Boeing). But sharklet? Finlet would have been better than sharklet. Or even wingfin…

  7. Roger says:

    The reason they aren’t installed as standard is because winglets are most helpful during cruise. At other times they are mostly dead-weight. Larger planes (eg 747, A340) spend a considerable amount of time in cruise while smaller ones like the A320 not so much.

  8. David SFeastbay says:

    I just had to relate this as it’s just as funny as ‘Wingtip fence’ or ‘shartlet’.

    I just read that Airbus announced it awarded a contract to a company in California to make high tech inlet LIPSKINS for the A350 XWB. McStarlite Company got the contract and is the world’s leading producer of aircraft engine nacelle lipskins. Lipskins, also known as engine nacelle leading egdes, are the “donut” shape front part of an airplane engines.

    Sharlets, fences, lipskins…..who comes up with this stuff…….lol

  9. Frank V says:

    Typical Scarebus. Wait until Boeing perfects something, essentially copy it and make it 2-5% larger, and claim victory.

  10. Bobber says:

    Frank V wrote:

    Typical Scarebus. Wait until Boeing perfects something, essentially copy it and make it 2-5% larger, and claim victory.

    Yawn.

    Still, not bad. 10th post before the Airbus-bashing commenced.

  11. CF says:

    Gray wrote:

    Why didn’t Airbus install a blended winglet on many of their smaller aircraft originally? Does anyone know why they decided on the tortilla chip wing fence on the A300/18/9/20/21/80 and blended wiglets on the A330/40?

    I don’t think blended winglets were around back then. The A330/A340 don’t have blended winglets but rather winglets that connect at an angle. I believe that the wingtip fences were not original parts for the A300 and A320 families. In fact, I know they weren’t, so maybe this was the best way to reduce wake without having to alter the structure of the wing. On the A330/A340, however, they were standard. (Just speculating here.)

    Andrew wrote:

    What’s the purpose of the smaller “tortilla chip” style (love that term, I LOL’ed), is it a slight increase in efficiency as well or something else?

    I think it really is all about reducing drag and improving efficiency. It does also have the effect of leaving a less turbulent wake which is better for trailing airplanes.

    A wrote:

    How long have those been around on their chief competitior 737?

    I believe they’ve now been around for about 10 years.

    Greg Thomson wrote:

    I can’t remember the name of the company that started the blended winglet retrofits. But, does anyone know if they have a patent on the blended winglet?

    You’re thinking of Aviation Partners. I think they’re actually handling the installation of these, so I don’t know that would be the issue. Just seems like some marketing BS to me.

    Roger wrote:

    Larger planes (eg 747, A340) spend a considerable amount of time in cruise while smaller ones like the A320 not so much.

    The A320 can spend up to 6 hours in cruise fairly easily so there is a big benefit to be had.

  12. Roger says:

    The A320 can spend up to 6 hours in cruise fairly easily so there is a big benefit to be had.

    Yes, but how many airlines do that? The plane is typically used on shorter legs. The extra weight of winglets means increased fuel consumption during climb so you then have to save enough during cruise to offset that first and then start getting cruise savings.

    In any event neither Boeing nor Airbus are idiots. If adding some decoration to the end of the wing gave improvements with no drawbacks then obviously they would do it.

  13. CF says:

    Roger wrote:

    Yes, but how many airlines do that? The plane is typically used on shorter legs. The extra weight of winglets means increased fuel consumption during climb so you then have to save enough during cruise to offset that first and then start getting cruise savings.
    In any event neither Boeing nor Airbus are idiots. If adding some decoration to the end of the wing gave improvements with no drawbacks then obviously they would do it.

    I’d say quite a few. JetBlue, United, and US Airways run their Airbus narrowbodies across the country all day long. Delta will likely start doing more of that once they move some Airbii out of the middle of the country. Look at airlines like TACA which fly their planes to points far away in North and South America as well. There are plenty of examples like this in Europe and Asia too.

    Of course, you can simply look at Southwest which has decided that winglets provide enough of a benefit on the 737 to make it worthwhile. That doesn’t mean it’s an exact comparison to Airbus, but it seems clear tht gains are there to be had.

  14. The real question is how long will Airbus and Boeing keep tweaking their exiting planes? Its all good of course, but then it just places the bar higher for the 737RS and A320RS..

  15. Roger says:

    You have justified why some Airbii (great word :-) should have had winglets in the past, but not all of them. Additionally fuel was cheaper in the past which would have made the economics less attractive. Airbus has claimed that their wing design plus wingtip rake is more efficient than the 737 wing which again makes winglets less economically attractive in the past. They aren’t always the answer (see 777 that has no winglets).

    The point I have been trying to make is that Airbus was not stupid omitting winglets in the original design nor were customers stupid for not demanding them. But these days with the A320 family flying longer routes than in the past and increased cost of fuel, they have started making economic sense.

  16. Bobber says:

    CF wrote:

    once they move some Airbii

    Love that. Reckon it might be Airbuus (air-boos), in a latin sense.

  17. Roger wrote:

    The point I have been trying to make is that Airbus was not stupid omitting winglets in the original design nor were customers stupid for not demanding them. But these days with the A320 family flying longer routes than in the past and increased cost of fuel, they have started making economic sense.

    The A320 was introduced in 1987, which means many of its design decisions came from the late 70s and early 80s. Take a peek at TWA commercial from 1977 Cross country flights were operated on widebodies. Airlines did a whole lot less cross country point to point I’d guess. It probably was much more common to double connect..

  18. CF says:

    Roger wrote:

    The point I have been trying to make is that Airbus was not stupid omitting winglets in the original design nor were customers stupid for not demanding them. But these days with the A320 family flying longer routes than in the past and increased cost of fuel, they have started making economic sense.

    I agree completely.

    One thing to note, while the 777 didn’t start with anything on the end of the wing, they now have raked wingtips on some models.
    http://www.boeing.com/news/releases/2002/q4/nr_021001h.html

  19. Oliver says:

    Looks pretty cool, even though it’s a bite off of Boeing’s idea and purpose.
    The name is hilarious!
    The best part about all this is that fuel is saved and planes can fly farther.
    Kudos to Airbus…even though it’s late.

  20. Darkwater says:

    OT, but on the TWA commercial referenced above – it looks like it was a 2-4-2 layout. How quickly were they converted to 2-5-2? I only remember the latter from when I was a kid.

  21. Wonko Beeblebrox says:

    I thought JetBlue had tried this a while ago….

    [searching...]

    yup– photo:
    http://www.airliners.net/photo/1054589/L/

    Discussions about it (dated 2006):
    http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/general_aviation/read.main/2800929/

    How are these new A320 winglets different?

    (and when is Boeing/Airbus going to put them on the tail wings as well…?)

  22. CF says:

    Wonko Beeblebrox wrote:

    How are these new A320 winglets different?

    These were a test, I believe one of two airplanes that had it. Airbus decided that while the savings were there, the weight of the sets negated most of them. They dropped the program. This is a new one that has better results apparently.

  23. Brendan says:

    Don’t forget, it costs a mint to retrofit a plane with blended winglets. The 737 and 757 blendeds that can be added on require a lot of down time for the plane and is a pretty significant mod. Airbus may have taken a survey of their customers and decided that not enough would spring for a retrofit.

    Oh, and as for the blended vs angled winglets, the angled ones that you see on, say, a 747, can be removed and still have the plane fly (but with a fuel peanalty for each missing winglet). The blended ones require repair immediately, if I recall correctly.

  24. Wonko Beeblebrox wrote:

    (and when is Boeing/Airbus going to put them on the tail wings as well…?)

    Hope your joking. If so, please excuse my crusty response.

    The horizontal stabilizer produces negative lift. It still produces induced drag like the wing, but manufacturers try to minimize the lift coming from the horizontal stab to begin with. I can’t imagine the complexity it would add to put wingtip airflow control on this surface. But then again, engineers are doing some amazingly complicated stuff now. Got to chat with a former Boeing engineer that said what they are doing with the 787 wing is confusing (he designed airplanes more than 30 years before retiring).

    The vertical stabilizer’s main job is not to produce lift except that when the rudder moves the shape changes and makes lift in the desired direction. Don’t think induced drag augmentation would even be sought with this one.

  25. ASFalcon13 says:

    Wonko Beeblebrox wrote:

    and when is Boeing/Airbus going to put them on the tail wings as well…?

    Been there, done that.

    Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

    …ok, I realize that, for the SCA, those are actually auxilliary vertical stabs. Still though, I think they qualify in the “stuff slapped on to the end of an airfoil” category.

  26. Jay says:

    But why come up with a new name if they’ve been called wiglets since the begining of time?

    Does this have anything to do with the early 787 renderings that made it look like a shark? Maybe to steal some shark-themed heat from Boeing?

    HHHMMMMMM……

  27. Yo says:

    I want canards! Retractable with a retractable front nose, like the TU 144!

    Sharklets are cool.

  28. aisle walker says:

    @ Nicholas Barnard:
    This a/c was configured so prior to deregulation… wide aisles, wide seats, halfway decent food and staffing and consistent pricing…post deregulation,; cattle car seating ie 9 across vs 10 , loss of staffing and meal services price gouging, ala cart pricing. and massive industry losses and failures..
    Thanks a lot!

  29. aisle walker says:

    @ aisle walker:
    sorry I meant 8 to 9

  30. @ aisle walker:

    My Point exactly. The A320 and the 737 were initially designed in an era where cross country really meant flying on a wide body, not a narrow body airliner

  31. aisle walker says:

    @ Nicholas Barnard:
    I flew 37′s back in the 70′s and 80′s the roues were often less than 1 hour lax sea being an example of max flight time.
    Once the -300 and -400 were produced, the a/l started using them on much longer city pairs..

  32. Darkwater says:

    Of course, you could always catch a flight on a CX L-1011 outfitted as 3-4-3 (although I think they only did this on their truly short-leg flights and kept other L-1011s as 2-5-2 for their medium haul flights).

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