Supercritical Wing Changed Airline Industry
Modern jet airliners ride on wings 15 percent more fuel-efficient than early jet transports because a NASA engineer saw a way to make it happen.
At NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia, Richard Whitcomb visualized a new wing shape with a flattened upper surface that minimized a drag-inducing shockwave that had hobbled airliners at high speeds. Whitcomb's theory was brilliant, but the proof was in actual flight test.
Photo at left: Test pilot Tom McMurty poses with the F-8 Supercritical Wing in 1972.
Beginning in 1971, NASA's Flight Research Center in California's Mojave Desert provided the necessary wide-open test arena for Whitcomb's invention, installed on a modified surplus F-8 jet fighter.
The eloquent simplicity of a change in shape provided drag reduction that would add up to millions of dollars in fuel savings each year as airlines equipped their fleets with supercritical-winged aircraft.
And the benefits reach farther, for each gallon of jet fuel saved means less pollution in the atmosphere, and more fossil fuel available for other needs. Today, most airliners incorporate this ingenious NASA discovery.
To see photos of NASA's Supercritical Wing F-8 jet, you may visit: http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/Gallery/Photo/F-8SCW/Small/index.html
Dryden Flight Research Center