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Lockheed L-1011 in flight - Wing vortex study Lockheed L-1011 in flight - Wing vortex study

Photo Number: ECN-7848
Photo Date: July 20, 1977

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Description: Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, conducted extensive wake vortice tests beginning in the 1970's. These wake vortex problems first became a serious concern when large jetliners were first introduced. The aircraft's trailing vortices, created by any large-bodied aircraft, were powerful enough to cause problems for business jets and even other airliners.

Dryden became interested in vortex research both for safety and as a matter of aerodynamics. A wingtip vortex seriously reduces efficency, causing drag, and therefore a consequent penalty in fuel consumption and performance.

The majority of the tests were conducted using spoilers on a Boeing 747-100, which NASA had just acquired for the Space Shuttle Approach and Landing (ALT) tests. With the two spoilers on the outer panels of each wing extended, the vortices were greatly reduced and the chase aircraft could safely fly five kilometers behind the large aircraft, compared to 15 kilometers with no spoilers.

Dryden's 747 wake vortex studies clearly indicated that the use of spoilers could reduce the severity of wake vortices. In July, 1977, the center began a brief series of tests on a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar to determine if the spoiler that worked so well on the 747 could be applied to other wide-body aircraft as well.

The test showed that while spoilers on the Tristar could reduce wake vortices, they were not as effective in doing so as the spoilers on the 747. NASA is continuing wake vortex studies to this day. These projects can be expected to improve the operational safety of many future aircraft.

This photo demonstrates the L-1011 with smoke generators operating, to visualize the vortex flows.

Keywords: L-1011; Lockheed; Tristar; 747; wake vortex research

Last Modified: February 6, 2002
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