All new 737s use split-tip winglets, which are more efficient than the simpler blended winglets previously used.

However, for no clear reason, they use two different types of split-tip winglet:

  • New 737 Next Generations (the 737-700/-800/-900)1 use split-scimitar winglets, which have a main body shaped like a blended winglet, but with its upper tip hooked backwards, and also have an additional scimitar-shaped fin projecting outwards and backwards from the upbend in the winglet.

Split-scimitar winglet

(Image by Mnts at Wikimedia Commons.)

  • The 737 MAX series uses the eponymous MAX winglets, which have a simpler shape than the split-scimitar winglet, looking essentially like if someone decided to put a winglet on the bottom of the wingtip in addition to the one at the top.

MAX winglet

(Image by Aka The Beav at Flickr, via Helmy oved at Wikimedia Commons, modified by Altair78 at Wikimedia Commons.)

I don’t get it - why go to the trouble of producing two slightly different styles of winglet alongside each other for two mostly-similar families of the same aircraft? Why not just go with the more efficient style of the two (be it the split-scimitar winglet or the MAX winglet), and use that on both the Next Generation and the MAX?

1: The 737-600 also belongs to the Next Generation family, but it left production long before the Next Generations switched from the blended to the split-scimitar winglet.

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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if the 737 ULTRA will have two winglets sprouting from each winglet... $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Mar 16 '19 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ @ymb1 The 737 FRACTAL will have an infinite tree of smaller and smaller winglets. This will be so efficient, it will land with more fuel in the tanks than when it took off. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Mar 16 '19 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby: To get regulatory approval for that, the 737 FRACTAL will dump fuel before landing so that pilots will not have to be trained to deal with the heavier landing off weights. Of course, there will be no training so fuel may be dumped on the same school under the flight path multiple times per day, and the US will be the last to ban the plane. $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Mar 17 '19 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ If I had to guess, the two different winglets have been added probably because of the certification process of the retrofit NG winglets. The scimitars still look a lot like the older winglets, which means they probably could install the changed winglet tip and the added lower winglet without having to change much of the outer wing structure and without expensive costs for certifying a totally different design. Even the position of the lights changed on the MAX - that all needs to be certified and they probably wanted to save money at the time they added the scimitars. $\endgroup$ – Jan Mar 17 '19 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ related:Is wingtip design mature? $\endgroup$ – Manu H May 24 '19 at 8:10

The 737NG was originally introduced with with no winglets. A company called Aviation Partners worked with Boeing to develop the "blended" winglet, originally for the NG-based BBJ (Boeing Business Jet). Customers then had them installed after delivery for a while before Boeing worked their own version into the production line. There is a similar case now with the split scimitar, where Boeing is delivering the 737NG with the "blended" winglet and customers are having it replaced with the split scimitar from Aviation Partners Boeing sometime after delivery if they choose.

One reason for developing a new winglet on the MAX is that it helps differentiate it from the NG and has become part of its "brand."

There also may be a consideration for cost from certifying the new winglets. As the split scimitar and MAX designs are so similar overall, there may not be enough benefit of the MAX design to justify certifying it for the NG, where they needed to do extensive flight testing on the MAX anyway. The split scimitar is also somewhat a modified blended winglet, which may have made certification easier.

  • $\begingroup$ Like I said, "styling". $\endgroup$ – John K Mar 17 '19 at 2:03

Since a winglet is basically a sail generating thrust (lift with a modest forward-tilted vector) from the circulating flow around the tip, extracting beneficial energy from the circulation (the thrust part) and producing an "outwash" that opposes and weakens the vortice flow in the process, it's just adding another sail beside the first one to extract more of the available energy from the flow. From the NASA Dryden page:

Winglets, which are airfoils operating just like a sailboat tacking upwind, produce a forward thrust inside the circulation field of the vortices and reduce their strength. Weaker vortices mean less drag at the wingtips and lift is restored. Improved wing efficiency translates to more payload, reduced fuel consumption, and a longer cruising range that can allow an air carrier to expand routes and destinations.

To produce as much forward thrust as possible, the winglet's airfoil is designed with the same attention as the airfoil of the wings themselves. Performance improvements generated by winglets, however, depend on factors such as the basic design of the aircraft, engine efficiency, and even the weather in which an aircraft is operating.

In the case of the MAX, you can see that the lower winglet is at less than a 45 degree angle, so it's producing mostly vertical lift with a slight forward component because as you can also see its incidence is somewhat nose down relative to the main wing to optimize its AOA in the tip circulation. It's kind of a half winglet, half tip extension.

Different engineering groups will do studies of different configurations and will say, "hey, if we do this, it'll be some little bit more efficient than if we do that, based on our particular analysis".

If you put different groups of engineers together to attack the problem, they are all going to come out with variations on what they think is the ideal configuration. And so you see seemingly endless permutations that are, really, mostly nibbling at the margins of the major benefit that was achieved when you put one there in the first place.

Plus there is probably a bit of "styling" going on as well. Just to be different.


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