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Shape-changing wings are future of aviation: NASA

Washington: After six months and 22 research flights, NASA has announced the successful completion of initial flight tests of a new morphing wing technology.

The shape-changing wings are not only designed to significantly reduce an aircraft's weight as well as the noise it generates during flight, these flaps could save the industry millions of dollars annually in fuel savings.

Flexible wings can make for lighter, more fuel-efficient planes as well as quieter takeoffs and landings. (Photo: Courtesy, NASA)
Flexible wings can make for lighter, more fuel-efficient planes as well as quieter takeoffs and landings. (Photo: Courtesy, NASA)

In tests, the wing's curve remained set anywhere from -2 to 30 degrees but it can be adjusted as needed even in midflight.

Eventually, flexible wings can make for lighter, more fuel-efficient planes as well as quieter takeoffs and landings, the US space agency said in a statement.

The test team at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Centre in Edwards, California, flew research flights with the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) flight control surfaces that offer significant improvements over conventional flaps used on existing aircraft.

"The completion of this flight test campaign is a big step for NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project," said ERA project manager Fay Collier.

"This is the first of eight large-scale integrated technology demonstrations ERA is finishing up this year that are designed to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment," he added.

The technology can be retrofitted to existing airplane wings or integrated into entirely new airframes.

It enables engineers to reduce wing structural weight and to aerodynamically tailor the wings to promote improved fuel economy and more efficient operations.

Although the flexible flaps were designed to morph throughout the entire range of motion, each test was conducted at a single fixed setting in order to collect incremental data with a minimum of risk.

"We are thrilled to have accomplished all of our flight test goals without encountering any significant technical issues," said programme manager Pete Flick from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

The results of these flight tests will be included in design trade studies performed at NASA's Langley Research Centre in Hampton, Virginia, for designing future large transport aircraft.

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