I always knew planes made these vortices when going through clouds/smoke, but I thought they were just tip vortices. Looking further into it, they are way too big to be tip vortices, so they had to be from the wing (trailing edge). I thought that the vortex from the wing was positioned perpendicular to the trailing edge of the wing, the same way tip vortices are perpendicular to the tip of a wing, if that makes sense. In that case, the vortex would not be parallel to the trailing edge of the wing, like in this photo. (Try to put some of it into layman's terms if you can, not a professional, thanks!)

(last thing, I've heard they rotate counter-clockwise, why is that?)

Plane going through clouds/smoke

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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/36425/… $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Oct 6 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ This link may also be helpful: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/8877/… $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Oct 6 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ Clockwise or counter clockwise depends on whether you are looking at the right wing or the left wing, and looking from the front or the back. $\endgroup$ Oct 6 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ @RTO Yes, that helps a lot, thanks! Still am wondering though, do the vortices I was talking about still exist? Like how the tip vortices are perpendicular to the tip of the wing, wouldn't that work for the trailing edge also? (still assuming the answer you gave me is true from the downwash) $\endgroup$
    – Wyatt
    Oct 6 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ @RTO Ah okay, sounds good. $\endgroup$
    – Wyatt
    Oct 7 at 0:49

1 Answer 1


The vortex you're thinking about is what we call the 'startup vortex' It is shed when the circulation changes -- the largest such change is when you go from rest to impulsively starting a lifting low.

For the most part, we ignore the starting vortex as it is infinitely far away during a cruising steady flight. In an inviscid ideal world, it exists forever. In the real world it dissipates and fades away.

  • $\begingroup$ ah okay probably also bigger at higher aoa I’m assuming? $\endgroup$
    – Wyatt
    Oct 7 at 13:31

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