AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 0056B ACCREDITED

What Are Aircraft Gurney Flaps Used For?

The wings of aircraft feature a number of equipment which improve lift and overall flight conditions, one of them being Gurney flaps. Gurney flaps are the smallest devices on aircraft wings, but not all aircraft feature them, despite the fact they help many models requiring high lift. When in use, these tab-like devices are positioned on the trailing edge of aircraft wings at a 90 degree angle. While the aircraft is in flight, Gurney flaps increase the air pressure on one side of the wing, while the pressure is reduced on the opposite suction side.

Invented by American race car driver Dan Gurney in the 1960s, Gurney flaps were initially only used in automobile racing following their production. Prior to their invention, similar strip-like devices were used, but they were meant to reduce control-surface oscillations caused by inconsistent flow separation patterns. Similar to spoilers, Gurney flaps affect air pressure by changing the way air flows around surfaces they have been installed on, and they are almost always located on the trailing edge of aircraft wings. Additionally, aircraft featuring Gurney flaps tend to have one on the trailing edge of each wing and are used to increase drag and lift, making them most useful in specialized aircraft, such as banner-towing planes. This type of aircraft tends to lack powerful engines capable of creating rapid speeds, as it is intended to move slowly enough so that people on the ground can read the banners they are towing.

Since Gurney flaps are set at a 90 degree angle, they increase drag and lift, which allows banner flying airplanes to fly at slower speeds while still maintaining enough lift to remain suspended in the sky. Helicopters, amongst other aircraft, use Gurney flaps as well. A plain airplane wing is able to provide lift because of its “bound vortex” which exists around the quarter chord. When you add another vortex at the trailing edge, upflow increases which increases lift. The flow over the top of the trailing edge moves more quickly, delaying a stall.

Gurney flaps increase positive pressure on the bottom surface of the wing, increasing the maximum coefficient of lift, in addition to many other beneficial changes. One important effect of Gurney flaps is that they can cause a symmetrical airfoil to generate lift, even with zero angle of attack. This is helpful in changing the effective incidence of a stabilizer. Another positive effect of Gurney flaps is that they increase the slope of the lift curve; although, they will produce insignificant quantities of drag if the flap height is less than the thickness of the boundary layer at the back end of the pressure surface on a clean wing. In addition, modern Gurney flaps are often used to improve the effectiveness of helicopter stabilizers. Attaching a Gurney flap to the airfoil of the tail helps bring the helicopters more lift.

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