This impressive photo of a U.S. Coast Guard C-130J clearly shows what wingtip vortices look like.

Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard

This dramatic image shows a U.S. Coast Guard C-130J from Air Station Elizabeth City, NC. The USCG is flying a version of the C-130 since the first one was delivered to Air Station Elizabeth City in December 1959.

Noteworthy, wingtip vortices, have modified the shape of the layer of clouds through which the Hercules has just ran.

Vortices form because of the difference in pressure between the upper and lower surfaces of a wing.

Generally speaking, when the air leaves the trailing edge of the wing, the air stream from the upper surface is inclined to that from the lower surface, and helical paths, or vortices, result. The vortex is strongest at the tips and decreasing rapidly to zero nearing midspan: at a short distance from the trailing edge downstream, the vortices roll up and combine into two distinct cylindrical vortices that constitute the “tip vortices.”

The tip vortices trail back from the wing tips and they have a tendency to sink and roll toward each other downstream of the wing. Although they eventually dissipate at a certain distance from the wing, wingtip vortices cause additional downflow behind the wing and form the major component of wake turbulence that can be extremely dangerous.

A more detailed description of the wingtip vortices can be found on the centennial of flight website that provides additional data about the wake turbulence. The above description is loosely based on the one provided by both the above mentioned website and NASA.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.