Airplanes are made to soar through the seemingly endless sky, where there is near-infinite room to maneuver no matter how large they are. In the air, size only matters when it comes to the physics of flight—an aircraft needs to generate enough thrust and lift to overcome its weight and drag.
On the ground, it’s a far different story. Aircraft can only take off and land from facilities with enough space and infrastructure to accommodate those forces. And once they’re on the ground, they need room to move.
For example, gates that are too small to handle certain types of commercial aircraft can become a very expensive problem for both the airport and airlines.
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing is doing its part to help with its 777X model, which aims to be the world’s largest twin-engine jet. While it sports a number of innovative features—more cabin space, lower fuel consumption, larger windows—the most noticeable change may be its wings.
Well, just the wingtips, actually. The 777X’s wings are 11 feet longer than its forebear, the 777. And since gates that accommodate 777s aren’t about to get wider, Boeing’s engineers designed wingtips that fold up, shaving the aircraft’s wingspan by 23 feet.
The wingtips fold down and lock into place with the flip of a switch and begin folding upward after the plane lands and drops below a certain speed. Thus, the aircraft maintains the wingspan and area it needs to safely operate in flight while also slotting into existing gates around the world.
Matt Slafka got a photo of a 777X parked at King County International Airport outside Seattle, Washington; you can see the wingtips locked into their upright position.
Of course, those wingtips aren’t to be confused with winglets, an aircraft component that have a different function. Winglets can also add a bit of fun to a plane’s design and livery, as many Spirit passengers know.
On a flight to Baltimore, Shelby Pelesky snapped a picture of a Southwest winglet painted in the airline’s signature Sunrise Yellow, Warm Red, Summit Silver and Bold Blue that perfectly complemented the early-morning horizon in flight.
Thanks, Matt and Shelby!
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