Winglets, Amelia Earhart, and Apollo 11 Splashdown

July 24th in Aerospace History

Winglets. You’ve probably seen these vertical extensions that go above and/or below the wingtip of many commercial airplanes.

Winglets can take many forms, from scimitar-shaped ones that are on many 737s, to the blended winglets on the 787, or even the stubby ones on a lot of Airbus jets.

NASA tested the winglet for the first time on July 24th, 1979. The early test flights helped scientists look at how the winglets performed in the real world so they could ascertain their flight characteristics. They found them to work as expected and they had the benefit of improving fuel consumption by 4–6%, saving billions in fuel costs for airlines that choose to use this technology.

It’s often easy to forget that NASA is tasked with performing aeronautical research, but it’s the second part of NASA’s name, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Ensuring that NASA gets funding isn’t just about visiting Mars or imaging distant galaxies. NASA conducts research that affects how we live back here on earth.

Learn more about NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center here.

Since we are on the subject of airplanes and flying, on this day in 1897, Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas. Earhart was an aviation pioneer and was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Her flight across the Atlantic was in a single engine, Lockheed Vega, and she managed to fly from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland in just under 15 hours. In addition to her first Solo Atlantic flight, she was also the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California. Later, Earhart became the first president of the Ninety-Nines, an organization dedicated to promoting female aviators.

On June 1st, 1937 Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami, Florida on a flight that would take them around the world. Tragedy struck on June 29th, when she, her navigator and their Lockheed Electra disappeared outside of New Guinea. The mystery around her disappearance and subsequent decades-long search have not faded from the public imagination.

Her disappearance is one of the highest profile missing persons cases of the 20th century, and I find it unlikely that we will ever know what happened to them on that fateful day in 1937.

Lastly for today, on July 24th, 1969, the Apollo 11 command module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia capsule carried Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin and the lunar samples gathered during the first moon landing, back to Earth. After returning to Earth, the three astronauts were quarantined for 21 days, since it was not known if they would bring back any contaminants from the Lunar surface. Thankfully, they didn’t carry any moon bugs back with them 😉

Pictured above left- Columbia after splashing down. You can see the astronauts in their isolation suits.

Pictured above right- President Nixon speaks to the Apollo 11 astronauts while they are isolated after returning from the moon.n

Picture Credits- Personal photos, The National Portrait Gallery- The Smithsonian Institution, and NASA.

Hosts The Space Shot & The Cosmosphere Podcast. Podcaster. Techie. Bibliophile. Space science & history nerd. I’ve also been a jeweler for 15+ years.