Phenomena

Wingtip Vortices

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Any finite length wing produces wingtip vortices–potentially intense regions of rotational flow downstream of the wing’s ends. These vortices are associated both with the production of lift on the wing and with unavoidable induced drag. The tabletop demonstration above shows the region of the vortices’ influence and how strong the rotation is there. Note also that the two vortices have opposite rotational senses–the left side induces a clockwise rotation, whereas the right side induces an anti-clockwise rotation. The larger an aircraft, the stronger and longer lasting its vortices; this can be a source of danger for smaller aircraft passing through the wake. If a pilot crosses one wingtip vortex and overreacts to compensate, crossing the second counter-rotating vortex can cause even greater damage.

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