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XR16 golf club
Boeing drew upon lessons learned from airplanes to build a better golf club. (Credit: Boeing)

What do aerospace and golf have in common? For the Boeing Co. and Callaway Golf, it’s a new line of golf clubs that have been tweaked to optimize the air flow for a faster, surer swing.

The results of one of Boeing’s most unusual collaborations will hit the market on Jan. 29, in the form of Callaway’s XR16 drivers. (Even the name sounds like an experimental aircraft, doesn’t it?)

The XR16 is a stretch version of last year’s model, redesigned to produce a higher moment of inertia. That keeps the head more stable when a golfer takes a swing. But a bigger head also typically means more aerodynamic drag, which would slow down the swing. That’s why Boeing was brought into the picture.

“Speed, weight and drag are just a few of the concepts our engineers work with every day when designing Boeing airplanes,” Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, explained in a blog post. “These same principles also apply to golf club designers.”

Boeing’s engineers drew upon their expertise in laminar flow control – that is, methods to change the flow of fast-moving air by changing the shape of a surface. Usually, the job involves putting wings in a wind tunnel. For Callaway, robo-golfers were programmed to hit balls under controlled conditions. And of course there was lots of computer modeling.

The solution? Put a few patterned grooves, known as trip steps, at strategic points on the club head. The trip steps create just the right amount of turbulence to reduce aerodynamic drag from the top of the swing through impact.

XR16 golf clubs
The XR16’s trip steps are the chevrons on top of the club, as seen at far left. (Credit: Callaway)

“We refer to this as ‘tripping the flow,'” Jeffrey Crouch, senior technical fellow on aero flow physics at Boeing, said in a video. “It’s just a fraction of a second, but that’s enough to give golfers greater head speed. That translates to more yardage per shot, and better results on the course.”

It also translates into a selling point for the XR16. Prices for the XR16 clubs with the Boeing-engineered Speed Step Crown feature range from $230 for the fairway wood to $400 for the XR16 Pro driver.

Is it worth it? Maybe not for a duffer like me, but it’s worth noting that the clubs have gotten a five-star review from Golfalot. For still more about the XR16, check out Golf Digest’s assessment and Mark Crossfield’s video review.

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