NASA Takes Supersonic Wing-Warping On Tour

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The Wright brothers may have pioneered the wing-warping concept 100 years ago, but chances are they never broke the sound barrier while testing it out. A NASA test pilot flying a modified F/A-18A Hornet with flexible wings did just that, though, over the California desert north of Edwards Air Force Base last month. NASA's Active Aeroelastic Wing (AAW) program is exploring the use of twisting flexible wings for primary maneuvering roll control at transonic and supersonic speeds. Although similar in concept to the Wrights' "wing warping" control system, AAW employs conventional control surfaces such as ailerons and leading-edge flaps to aerodynamically induce the twist, rather than mechanically twisting the wingtips as on the Wright Flyer. The research data will help develop structural modeling techniques and tools to help design lighter, more flexible high-aspect-ratio wings for future high-performance aircraft, NASA said. The second phase of AAW flight tests should get underway in early 2004. Meanwhile, the AAW research aircraft will be flown to the Midwest for display at several air shows during the summer in connection with Centennial of Flight activities. Look for it at the Dayton International Air Show at Dayton, Ohio, July 17-20; The Grissom Air Force Base air show at Kokomo, Ind., July 26-27; and EAA AirVenture 2003 at Oshkosh, Wis., July 29-Aug. 4.