By Mike Mangano
Interview: Tamarack Aerospace Group On Active Winglet Technology
The story of flight is the story of technology, and more specifically, the advancement of technology. From the sands of Kitty Hawk to the asphalt of Los Angeles International Airport, evolution is the word best suited to describe aviation. Buried beneath the materials, powerplants and control systems of today lay an archaeological treasure trove of what came before.
However, as a friend frequently reminds this writer, we are living in a new age — the renaissance of aviation. The future has its roots here and now, and it’s these roots that will define aviation’s future as we know it.
Recently, AirlineGeeks reported an interesting development in the realm of sustainable aviation, however this time it wasn’t some potion of biofuels. Providing enhanced efficiency and aircraft performance, Tamarack Aerospace Group has been developing and installing its SMARTWING active winglets on a variety of aircraft — real proof that there is still much to be done in the field of aerodynamics.
We wanted to know a bit more about these active winglets and the role they will play in the future of commercial aviation, so AirlineGeeks caught up with Tamarack’s President Jacob Klinginsmith to find out.
AG: How did Tamarack start? Where did this organization of yours begin?
JK: Our founder and CEO, Nick Guida, was doing traditional wing modifications as an engineer for other companies, like Aviation Partners and BLR, and others. As an engineer, he was helping design these, and he saw some of the penalties that came with doing traditional wing modifications.
They would take away some of the aerodynamic benefits because of the structural penalties. So they would end up with less optimised aerodynamic winglets, and also structural penalties from the extra weight due to the necessary reinforcement for the wing, compromising the winglets on the end. He had a background in engineering and structures and fatigue, so he was doing these projects, and he realized — this was in about 2010 — there’s load alleviation technology, which has been around since the seventies on the L 1011.
If we put a load alleviation system with a wing with modification, it’s targeting reducing the load on the wing that’s added by the winglet, we can do much more beneficial work with the winglet aerodynamically and just mitigate those loads with a system so that 99% of the time you’re getting all the aerodynamic benefit, but you don’t have all this extra structural penalty with life reductions and extra weight from reinforcing the wing.
So he had that epiphany on his way home from a Steely Dan concert, kind of sitting in the airport thinking. And so he sat down and did some math. He had the, you know, the background as a loads engineer to do the math and see how it would work. And it worked on paper. And so he formed the company in 2010. I started with him right when he was starting. I had been working at Quest Aircraft, working on the Kodiak, and so we flew it to prove the concept in in actual flight, not just on paper. And the rest is sort of history, you know, with getting patents together, certification around the world. And now we’re approaching 10% of the Citation fleet with the technology on there. But it was never only meant to be Citations – that was just a place to start.
AG: Just how universal is SMARTWING technology?
JK: Well, the underlying technology is meant to be universal, and we’ve designed the architecture to be modular so that some of our base components can be applied on different platforms. But the agencies, you know, FAA, EASA and other agencies around the world, they require each platform to be certified individually because the aerodynamic design is custom or bespoke to a particular platform, and you can see that on the Citation product – the winglets have a certain look and shape and on the King Air they have a really different look and shape because it’s really tailored to get the most aerodynamic benefit.
AG: According to your website there was some good performance and flying quality improvements – some pretty drastic improvements. What impact does SMARTWING have on the performance and flying qualities of a given aircraft?
JK: It definitely has a big impact. I mean, the big picture is we’re adding a lot more wings to the airplane so flying performance is automatically improved because of the extra wing that we’re adding in addition to the wing. So, that’s like probably the single biggest thing for each 1000 feet of altitude higher that you’re climbing. It’s about a 3% improvement in a specific range. When you climb the aircraft, for example, on the Citation jets, they may be stuck in the thirties – 30,000 feet or so. And that’s the most they can climb when they’re heavier or it’s hot without the winglets. With the winglets, they’re able to climb up to the ceiling in the forties. And so each thousand feet higher is 3% better fuel consumption. So that makes a big, big difference.
With the handling quality specifically, we’re adding more wings, so we’re adding some stability. On the Citation M2s, we’re able to take away the yaw damper limitation on those planes because we add stability to the platform at high altitudes. So that’s definitely a big benefit for stability. One thing that’s really unique to what we’re doing with the active load alleviation — that’s aerodynamic damping — so it’s providing ride smoothing, which is something that you’re seeing on modern aircraft like the 787 and some of the higher-end business jets. They’re doing that alleviation to provide just passenger comfort. And so we’re able to add that on as part of our modification, which is stability, safety and comfort.
AG: Have you seen a potential for it to go further down the commercial road, such as Boeing and Airbus? Is that on the horizon or are we still in a bit of an earlier stage?
JK: It’s definitely on the horizon from our point of view. You know, a lot of the Boeing aircraft have the legacy traditional winglets on them. Those have done excellently to provide fuel savings and carbon emissions reductions, but only in the neighborhood of like three or four percent. So what we would like to do is take those off and put on something that’s better. We’re starting with the Airbus A320 CEO (current engine option) generation because we see a big value proposition for that fleet, but there’s certainly a huge value proposition for other fleets as well.
AG: If you were to implement that, would that be arranged through an airline as an aftermarket feature or do you think that’s something you can work with during the manufacturing stage?
JK: Both. Originally when Aviation Partners started making the winglets, such as the blended winglets for the 737s, that started with basically a partnership with airlines. Boeing came around and they started implementing them in the production line. So we wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar, but you know, that’s all of that is just up to the dynamics of how the business comes together.
AG: Can you talk me through the installation process? It sort of seems like it’s simpler than it sounds.
JK: That’s another really important point – that’s a huge value proposition. What we’re doing with our technology and a traditional wing. That modification will require pretty extensive structural reinforcement, which takes a long time in some cases.
Right now we’re doing installations in under 10 days – including paint – because we don’t have to be invasive on the structure.
So the process is the plane comes in, and we take the original wing tips off the short wing tips. We attach the structure and we call it winglet Wednesday because if a plane comes in on Monday, it has winglets on it by Wednesday, structurally, and the rest of the time is running the electrical systems and doing the paintwork.
So that’s a big benefit of what we’re doing. On a larger airframe, of course, that’s gonna be potentially longer. But the concept is the same. The downtime is really reduced because we’re not so invasive into the structure as a lot of the other modifications.
Repetition for emphasis, the work of Tamarack highlights that we truly are living in a renaissance of aviation. While the glory days often are recalled with grainy footage of Lindbergh, the screaming jets of Edwards in a post-war 20th century, and even the pioneering Space Shuttle, it is worth noting that this age is what future generations will reflect on. What will evolve from this technological boom remains to be seen, but it’s a ride worth climbing on.