As I looked out the window, the upturned wingtips caught my attention. In the last couple of years these winglets have become quite commonplace and I wondered when they first showed up.
The technology felt somehow familiar as I used to fold paper planes as a kid having similar folded-up wing tips, that, if not increasing flight performance, just looked cool. Leafing through my patent collection that I always have at hand, I came across English patent GB189703608 of February 10, 1897 in the name of Frederick William Lanchester. He constructed aeroplanes built up of wire and tube framing with silk or sheet aluminium covering, or, in small structures, of a single piece of wood. The wings were provided at their tips with a “capping plane”, for minimising the energy loss due to air circulation.
This great idea of aircraft pioneer Lanchester was later taken up by NASA and Boeing in the 1970ies in response to the oil crisis to increase aircraft’s energy efficiency. This resulted in the founding of the company Aviation Partners Boeing (APB) that is now retrofitting existing aircraft with "Blended Winglets" that are shaped like a fold and merge with the wing in a smooth, upturned curve. These upturned wingtips are applied on thousands of aircraft in service for numerous international airlines and result in significant fuel savings and reduction of CO2 emissions.
It felt comforting to see how technology can evolve from ground level in the early years of aviation, to land on the moon 50 years ago and to then return from outer space back to earth to be put to widespread use. And it makes me hopeful the same flight trajectory is in store for my client's invention for which, after a long and difficult hearing, the patent was finally granted.
This blog post is part of a series of 'Man on the Moon' articles to honour the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.