UC engineer’s design eliminates wing turbulence

Bay City News Service
Thursday November 22, 2001

BERKELEY – Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley say they are working to patent a design for aircraft wings that could dramatically cut the strength of wake turbulence. 

The researchers say that the innovation, which adds triangular flaps to wings, would make wake turbulence, the force that may have played a role in the deadly crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in New York last week, harmless. 

“The wing we designed could make substantial differences in flight safety and airport capacity,” says UC Berkeley mechanical engineering professor Omer Savas.  

Aviation officials have said that they believe that the tail fin of the A300 jet tore off the plane after pilots hit the wake turbulence, or tornado-like wind patterns, left by a Japan-bound Boeing 747 that had taken off two minutes earlier. 

Wake turbulence is created by the mismatch of speed, direction and pressure of the air that moves above and underneath a plane. The differences govern the lift that is generated during flight. 

Depending on weather conditions, and the plane's speed and size, the wake vortices are generally stable and can stretch a distance of hundreds of wingspans, or three to five miles for commercial aircraft. 

Savas said while wake turbulence alone is not the likely cause of Flight 587’s crash, the turbulence added to a damaged tail fin “could be devastating.” 

Savas, along with former graduate students Jason Ortega and Robert  

Bristol, came up with the wing design that adds a triangular flap to the  

wings, to create a shape similar than that of a bat's wing. 

The flaps create additional vortices that rotate in opposite  

directions and run into each other. 

"It's like two tornadoes shredding each other,'' Savas said. "One  

is spinning clockwise, the other counterclockwise, so each one counteracts  

the other.'' 

Savas said the flaps would allow planes to take off and land  

within closer time frames without compromising safety. 

The idea of getting rid of wake vortices is not a new one, and  

wing designs in the past have included small pulsing jets mounted at the  

wingtips, spars and oscillating spoilers. 

Most of the designs, however, proved themselves to be infective or  

impractical, while others required too many moving parts that needed too much  


UC Berkeley filed a provisional patent application for the wing  

design on Friday. 




CONTACT: Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley (510) 643-7741 

Omer Savas (510) 642-5705 



Copyright © 2001 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse 

without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.