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Colin Beckner

8th Grade, Swanson Middle School
Arlington, VA

Colin 3-D printed and tested multiple airplane wing designs with various winglets to see how they might alter an airplane’s flight performance.

Need a Lift? The Effect of a Wingtip Style on a Wing’s Percent Change in Weight When Run Through a Wind Tunnel


Project Background

Two years ago, Colin attended an aerospace engineering summer camp, which sparked his interest in airplane wing designs. There, he learned how airplanes work, and how to test the performance of their wing shapes in a wind tunnel. After that, Colin paid attention to the planes every time he was at an airport. “One thing I noticed was that some airplane wings had different designs of wingtips, and I wondered why,” he says. At the end of many airplane wings are smaller winglets that curve up or down, so Colin decided to test how different winglet designs could affect an airplane’s flight performance. “Winglets on an airplane can increase lift and reduce drag,” Colin says. “This results in the airplane burning less fossil fuel.”

Tactics and Results

Colin first designed a basic model airplane wing and 3D printed five copies. He then printed four different winglet designs to test and attached them to the ends of the wings. One wing was left bare. To test the designs, Colin constructed a small wind tunnel from cardboard, plexiglass and a fan. He placed a kitchen scale inside the wind tunnel to weigh the wings with and without the fan turned on. After conducting 10 trials for each wing design, Colin found that the Split Scimitar winglet had the biggest change in weight with wind. This winglet has two tiny wings, one slanting upward and one slanting downward. On average, the model wing’s weight dropped by 4.4 percent when the fan was on. “The Split Scimitar winglet would likely perform the best at generating lift and countering drag,” Colin says.

2023 Thermo Fisher JIC Finalist Colin Beckner

Beyond the Project

“If I were to do this project again, I would make the wings larger and out of a more realistic material, such as metal,” Colin says. He would also use a more powerful wind tunnel to test the designs.

Other interests

Colin enjoys swimming, learning Latin and participating in Boy Scouts. “I like Boy Scouts because it introduces me to many new things, such as orienteering and rock climbing,” he says. “It has also given me a greater respect for nature.” Colin hopes to continue learning about airplane physics and designing structures as an aeronautical engineer.

2023 Thermo Fisher JIC Finalist Colin Beckner