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The other kind of airfoil

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 17 Dec 2012
01/02/2010 - Valencia (ESP) - 33rd America’s Cup - BMW ORACLE Racing - Training in Valencia***01-02/2010 - Valencia (ESP) - 33rd America’s Cup - BMW ORACLE Racing - Training in Valencia BMW Oracle Racing © Photo Gilles Martin-Raget http://www.bmworacleracing.com
Given the lovely weather that we’ve been 'enjoying' in Seattle as of late (read: liquid sunshine, and lots of it), my family and I spent the morning checking-out a different kind of wing than the America’s Cup variety, namely the ones that Boeing manufactures and assembles at their Everett, Washington facility. Here, we saw wing sections for 747s, 787s and 777s being assembled and attached to their fuselages in the world’s biggest building. I couldn’t help but smile when the tour guide referred to the supporting members that run internally down length of each wing as 'spars.'


I also couldn't help but consider that the scale of an AC72’s wingsail won’t be too far afield from what I was seeing on the massive assembly floor. Even mightier was the thought that BMW Oracle 90 used a wing section that dwarfed that of any commercial airliner ever built.


In another parallel to Grand Prix sailing, the new 787 is built using substantial amount of carbon fiber and composite materials. Also according to our tour guide, the 787’s wings (which use a lot of carbon) are designed to flex more than 20 feet, purportedly to act as 'shock absorbers' (his parlance, not mine) to make flying through rough air a smoother experience. Yet talk to any skipper in the alone-and-around-the-world-nonstop Vendee Globe Race, and I strongly suspect that they wouldn’t think of their carbon-fiber racing shells as having much in the way of shock absorption, especially now as they skim and skip along the often storm-tossed Southern Ocean.

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