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KC-135A in flight - winglet study

KC-135A in flight - winglet study


Photo Number: ECN-11353
Photo Date: July 25, 1979

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Description: This Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, besides being used extensively in its primary role as an inflight aircraft refueler, has assisted in several projects at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California.

In 1979 and 1980, Dryden was involved with general aviation research with the KC-135. A special wingtip "winglet", developed by Richard Whitcomb of Langley Research Center, was tested on the jet aircraft. Winglets are small, nearly vertical fins installed on an airplane's wing tips to help produce a forward thrust in the vortices that typically swirl off the end of the wing, thereby reducing drag. This winglet idea was tested at the Dryden Flight Research Center on a KC-135A tanker loaned to NASA by the Air Force. The research showed that the winglets could increase an aircraft's range by as much as 7 percent at cruise speeds. The first application of NASA's winglet technology in industry was in general aviation business jets, but winglets are now being incorporated into most new commercial and military transport jets, including the Gulfstream III and IV business jets, the Boeing 747-400 and MD-11 airliners, and the C-17 military transport.

In 1957 and 1958, Dryden was asked by what was then the Civil Aeronautics Administration (later absorbed into the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1958) to help establish new approach procedure guidelines on cloud-ceiling and visibility minimums for Boeing's first jet airliner, the B-707. Dryden used a KC-135, the military variant of the 707, to aid the CAA in these tests.

In the 1980's, a KC-135 was used in support of the Space Shuttle program. Since the Shuttle was to be launched from Florida, researchers wanted to test the effect of rain on the sensitive thermal tiles. Tiles were mounted on special fixtures on an F-104 aircraft and a P-3 Orion. The F-104 was flown in actual rain conditions, and also behind the KC-135 spray tanker as it released water. The KC-135, however, proved incapable of simulating enough rain impact damage and was dropped from the tests.


Keywords: KC-135; KC-135A; Stratotanker; Boeing Military Airplane Company; inflight aircraft refueler; general aviation; Shuttle Tile tests; Civil Aeronautics Administration; B-707; Richard Whitcomb; Langley Research Center


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