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Minix wing tip device promises 6% gain in fuel efficiency for airliners

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June 24, 2010

Minix wing tip device promises 6% gain in fuel efficiency for airliners

Minix wing tip device promises 6% gain in fuel efficiency for airliners

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Fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are huge priorities in the aviation industry – passenger airliners chew through amazing quantities of fuel. Take the Boeing 747, which guzzles somewhere around a gallon of jet fuel per second – it's clear that a percentile improvement in fuel consumption can make a huge difference to costs at the end of a long-haul flight. That's why the Minix wing tip deserves close scrutiny. It replaces the tilted winglets at the tip of an aircraft wing, can be retrofitted to any airplane, and smooths out the wing-tip vortex, reducing the aircraft's wing drag. Minix claims the design is five times more effective than a regular winglet and can save as much as 6% on an aircraft's energy costs. For a commercial Boeing 747, that equates to a saving of around 600,000 gallons of fuel per year, per aircraft. Food for thought.

Air travel gets a fair bit of bad press in terms of fuel efficiency and emissions, but in truth, provided you're traveling in excess of 500km, in a plane full of other passengers, the numbers would put it about level with driving that distance solo in an average car.

That's not to say that global air travel doesn't make a significant contribution to emissions, or that it's a super fuel-efficient way to travel - just that it's not as bad on these two axes as many people think.

Still, jumbo jets and other large aircraft do go through a staggering amount of fuel per journey, so an opportunity for a tiny efficiency gain is an opportunity to save significant money, as well as helping lower emissions.

French aeronautics teacher Christian Hugues believes he's come up with an aerodynamics breakthrough that could increase an aircraft's fuel economy by a massive 6% – and Gizmag checked it out earlier this week at the Paris Green Air Show.

The Minix device sits at the tip of an aircraft's wing as a replacement to the vertical or tilted winglets now common on many craft. Its primary purpose is to smooth out and negate the high-pressure spiral vortices that form when a plane is in motion as the high-speed airflow struggles to deal with the complex pressure differences in the area where the wing terminates.

These vortices not only create a significant amount of drag on the aircraft, they create a turbulent and occasionally dangerous pressure wake that can interfere with other planes that pass through the same airspace. Planes have crashed after taking off too close behind other aircraft and being unable to deal with this vortex effect.

Minix wing tip device promises 6% gain in fuel efficiency for airliners

The Minix wing tip can be retrofitted to any aircraft wing. Its cylindrical shape prevents the airstream from trying to 'curl' around the edge of the wing, which is how the wing-tip vortex is created. The simulation diagrams below show how much smoother the airflow comes off the wingtip with a Minix cylinder fitted - and the developer claims that prototype testing has shown a 6% gain in drag efficiency at Mach 0.8 - the typical speed of an airliner.

Minix wing tip device promises 6% gain in fuel efficiency for airliners

Above: regular wing tip showing turbulent vortex

Minix wing tip device promises 6% gain in fuel efficiency for airliners

Above: Minix wing tip showing smooth airflow with no vortex

On top of the reduced vortex effect and overall aerodynamic drag, the Minix system produces increased lift at the wing tip, which is especially useful during landing. And Hugues claims it should also be cheaper to produce than a traditional winglet.

The Minix system can also be fitted to wind turbine blades for a similar gain in performance as wing-tip drag is eliminated. Hugues claims an extraordinary 14% greater annual electrical output from a minix-fitted turbine.

Pie in the sky? It's hard to tell. But the claimed figures make a very compelling argument for further testing. We'll keep our eye on this one!

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
12 Comments

An additional benefit will be to the other aircraft who may wander into their wing vertex. That is a real concern when landing behind a heavy aircraft, causing a longer spacing between landing aircraft.

Bob Lemay
24th June, 2010 @ 10:37 am PDT

The developer claims 6% improvement during 'testing', but where are the pictures? Is this is to be taken beyond a theory then real-world wind tunnel testing and flight testing needs to be carried out.

PeetEngineer
24th June, 2010 @ 11:29 am PDT

Yes but... many MANY of the flights of 500 km that people take are unnecessary. That's the whole point! You fly on holiday to Europe 2-3 times a year, when you could just stay in the UK and have just as much a wonderful time. You would not choose to drive to Greece - you fly - so comparing flying to driving a car is daft. You cannot drive a car to LA from London. Not going is the best solution.

Still - if these wing tips work, we'll see them on all planes by the end of the year. If they don't, we won't.

Harmsy
24th June, 2010 @ 12:07 pm PDT

He can claim all he wants but that an a dollar will only get him a cup of coffee.

I do a lot of aero/hydrodynamics including wing/rotor, keel tips and his device won't do what he claims and might even add more drag than it cuts. Present advanced wingtips, especially down curved with some aft guide fences would be far better.

He should look up something called intersection drag which ruins his ideas eff.

jerryd
24th June, 2010 @ 12:27 pm PDT

Important point: wingtip vortices are a significant source of drag only at LOW speeds, where induced drag predominates. At cruise, it is skin-friction drag and wave drag that matter, and this device cannot possibly do anything about those. I therefore doubt the claim of 6% saving in cruise, and await proof.

I am not even sure about the claim of safety improvement in landing approach and takeoff. If this thing works at all, it increases the aerodynamic loading on the wingtips, which increases the danger of a wingtip stall - the most dangerous kind.

piolenc
24th June, 2010 @ 05:47 pm PDT

As a point of nit-pickyness, I thought the mean rate of fuel consumption per passenger was around 1 liter of fuel for 100Km travelled.

That is why it especially grated when the average ????? car got say 12 or 15 - 25Kml.

Mr TIGHT ass, here reckons all cars should be made to get 50K a litre.

Mr Stiffy
25th June, 2010 @ 11:50 pm PDT

artist rendition looks incorrect to me, seems like you would want to spin the air in the opposite direction of spillover/vortex to slow it down not in the same direction to speed it up?

kraftzion
26th June, 2010 @ 04:12 am PDT

The A380 consumes 3.4l per 100km and Passenger IIRC

ungerik
30th June, 2010 @ 05:24 am PDT

Even if the gripes about airplanes are valid, it looks like this could improve wind turbines. I'll celebrate that little advance.

jimbo92107
3rd August, 2010 @ 08:09 am PDT

I´m sure this photos have human induced errors on the design due to comercial reasons.

Daniel Plata Baca
15th August, 2010 @ 04:12 am PDT

This device will not work. The reason for the tip vortex is the pressure differential between the suction and pressure side of the wing. At the tip of a wing, the pressure difference causes the flow to wrap around, which is known as the wingtip vortex. As long as lift exists, the pressure difference will exist, and the flow will wrap right around this device, and the vortex will still exist. Developing this device was a huge waste of money by someone who didn't take the time to understand the physics behind this phenomenon.

Eric Anthony Deem
16th February, 2012 @ 03:08 pm PST

I tested this device for my university thesis and it done nothing at all but to increase drag due to the extra skin friction drag caused by a greater surface area. The vortices do not reduce because the design considers the physics on too primitive and intuitive a level.

Facebook User
26th March, 2012 @ 01:58 pm PDT
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