United Airlines tests new fuel saving wingtips

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United Airlines took another step forward in the quest for increased fuel efficiency today, when a 737-800 fitted with a new type of winglet flew its first flight in Everett, Wash.

Instead of merely having a wingtip pointed upwards, as on much of the carrier’s Boeing fleet, the new wingtips have two elements – one points up and the other, which is considerably smaller, points down.

United officials say the new winglet results in significantly less drag than the current model used by the airline on its 737 fleet. They say the winglet – called the Split Scimitar – will result in a roughly 2 percent fuel savings the 737s.

Eventually, when United puts the new technology on its 737, 757 and 767 fleet, the airline expects to save $200 million annually in fuel. Currently, some of those planes have traditional winglets, while some have none at all.

There’s a bit of a competition going between Boeing and Airbus over who can develop more efficient wings. Airbus, which has historically had relatively small wingtip devices on its planes, has started helping airlines retrofit their A320 family aircraft with 2.5 meter high “sharklets.” Airbus says their sharklets, pictured below, reduce fuel consumption by about 4 percent on the longest flights.

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