United Airlines has started flying the split scimitar wing tip on its Boeing 737-800 fleet in order to reduce the jet’s overall fuel burn by 2%.
The new wing tip, which is quite a mouthful when described officially as a ‘scimitar shaped wingtip cap with an added scimitar shaped ventral strake’, is also one of the most visually striking features of the Boeing 737 MAX series of higher efficiency jets due in service toward the end of 2017.
In its statement United says:
A United Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft retrofitted with the new Split Scimitar Winglet took its maiden test flight Tuesday in Everett, Wash. This advanced winglet improves on the existing blended winglets United currently has on its next generation 737 fleet.
In January, United served as the launch customer for this innovative winglet when it made a firm commitment with Aviation Partners Boeing (APB) to retrofit its 737-800 fleet. In June, United announced its commitment to also retrofit its 737-900ER fleet. Using a newly patented design, the program consists of retrofitting United’s Boeing Next Generation 737 Blended Winglets by replacing the aluminum winglet tip cap with a new aerodynamically shaped “Scimitar”™ winglet tip cap and by adding a new Scimitar-tipped ventral strake.
“We are always looking for opportunities to reduce fuel expense by improving the efficiency of our fleet. The Next-Generation 737 Split Scimitar Winglet will provide a natural hedge against rising fuel prices while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions,” said United’s Vice President of Fleet Ron Baur. “We appreciate APB’s focus in helping United become even more fuel efficient.”
This new winglet design demonstrates significant aircraft drag reduction over the basic blended winglet configuration United uses on its current fleet. United expects the new Split Scimitar winglet to result in approximately a two percent fuel savings for the 737. Once the Split Scimitar Winglets are installed, the combined winglet technology installed on United’s 737, 757, and 767 fleet is expected to save the airline more than $200 million per year in jet fuel costs.
United will begin retrofitting its 737-800 and 737-900ER fleet with the new winglet beginning early next year, once testing and FAA certification of the winglets are complete.
This also means that it looks like split scimitars and ‘sharklets’ at ten paces in the marketing duel between the Boeing 737 MAX series (due in service late in 2017) and the Airbus NEO A320 series (late 2015) which features a different shaped wing tip device of that name.
The importance of these devices is not in what they look like, but the reduced emissions they promise through smoother aerodynamics playing their part in packages in which the main improvement will come from new technology engines.
Whether Qantas or Virgin Australia retrofit the split scimitars to their existing 737s or any new ones delivered before the MAX series becomes available will depend on the price of the option, the projected lifetime of the jets, and the net savings they can be confident of making.