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6 Design Improvements That Reduce Aircraft Drag

This story was made in partnership with AOPA. Ready to join the largest aviation community in the world? Sign up and become an AOPA Member today.

Want to fly fast? Here are 6 design improvements that counter drag's negative effects on performance.

1) Flush-Mounted Rivets

Even microscopic changes to the smooth surface of a wing or aircraft fuselage can dramatically increase drag. Rivets are one of the most common drad-inducers. In the picture below, notice the protruding rivets on the wing vs the flush, or recessed, rivets used by engineers to reduce drag as much as possible...


2) Gap Seals

The gaps between flight control surfaces and a wing are perfect spots for drag creation. Airflow moves from areas of high pressure to low pressure through these small gaps, making airflow turbulent, and increasing drag.

Some manufacturers install gap seals on their aircraft to counter this problem. They're also available as installation kits for some aircraft.


3) Fairings

Wherever two surfaces meet, interference drag forms behind the trailing edge of them. This happens on struts, gear, and the wing/fuselage connection point.

Interference drag can be minimized by using fairings to ease the airflow transition between aircraft components.

Lane Pearman

4) Wheel Pants

In the POH for C172S Skyhawk, the addition of wheel pants increases airspeed by around 2 knots. Their smooth, rounded surfaces allow airflow to move around the struts with less drag created than bare wheels sticking out in the wind.


5) Winglets

Winglets are actually little wings that generate lift. And, just like any other wing, they generate lift perpendicular to the relative wind. It might not seem like much, but just a little bit of forward lift helps. It opposes the drag produced by wingtip vortices.

With composites and new manufacturing technology, you can now blend winglets into the wing, significantly reducing interference drag and making the winglets even more efficient.

Learn everything you need to know about how winglets work.

6) Feathering Propellers

Some constant speed propeller systems allow props to moved into a "feathered" position. Naturally, if free movement was allowed, a propeller would tend to flatten itself into the wind. Think about driving with your hand outside of a car window. The wind naturally wants to flatten your hand into the wind. And when that happens, suddenly it's harder to hold your hand in place.

When feathered, the propeller aligns itself with the wind to ensure the least amount of surface area is exposed. This significantly reduces drag, allowing air to flow past the propeller with minimal interference. This is one reason why you feather the propeller during an engine failure in a multi-engine airplane. It improves glide performance by reducing drag.


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