That Extra Little Lift- page 3 | History | Air & Space Magazine
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Bob Englar revived the Custer Channel Wing for wind tunnel experiments directing airflow. (Tim Wright)

That Extra Little Lift

Willard Custer's Channel Wing looked like a mistake. Turns out his critics were the ones who were wrong.

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“We were trying to avoid all those problems” by using circulation control, Englar says. The blowing air increases the already considerable lift, eliminating the need to land at those high angles of attack. The pneumatic controls enable pilots to quickly compensate for engine failure or other dangerous asymmetries.

Like Custer, Englar fervently believes in his work despite the disappointment that his circulation control systems have not been adapted for production aircraft or for other vehicles beyond prototypes.

Englar shares some of the same frustration Custer felt when he was trying to convince the world to do something new. Use the word “curse” in relation to this grim similarity and Englar won’t object. “It takes a while for people to realize the potential,” he says. “And when they believe you, they say, ‘Well then why is it not being used in any production

airplanes?’ ”

Circulation control, however, continues to attract attention. Engineers in Britain are designing an unmanned aircraft that would be controlled only by directed airflow and thrust vectoring, and the Navy is investigating the use of circulation control on Navy submarines, which could use water jets instead of dive planes and rudders. Englar’s extensive wind tunnel tests have also proven that circulation control can reduce drag on tractor-trailer rigs, improve traction on race cars, and help control high-speed race boats.

Meanwhile, Custer’s CCW-1 awaits restoration at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, and the CCW-5 sits forlornly on the tarmac at the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania. They have remained mere curiosities, but thanks to Englar, Bushnell, and renewed interest in short-takeoff-and-landing designs, the channel wing design may one day be transformed from a museum piece to a real, live flying airplane.

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