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NASA Shrinking The Vertical Tail

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Wind tunnel testing conducted earlier this month at Moffett Field, Calif., has shown promising results for active flow control technology and its potential for reducing the size of vertical tail structures for a whole family of aircraft. NASA, in partnership with Boeing, equipped a full-scale Boeing 757 vertical fin with active flow control technology that involved “sweeping jet actuators,” which blow air along the span of the tail. NASA hopes similar systems will lead to simpler, smaller, more efficient structures that will reduce the weight, drag and fuel consumption of aircraft. The test results were “promising,” according to NASA, which hopes to follow the ground tests with flight demonstrations in 2015. 

The airflow manipulation adds energy to the flow field, according to NASA, effectively improving the aerodynamic performance of the design, meaning that less surface area (and drag) may be made as effective as larger designs. NASA hopes that development of such technologies will lead to improved fuel efficiency, lower noise levels and reduced emissions. NASA tested “a wide array of flow control configurations” in the wind tunnel, “across the whole low-speed flight envelop of the vertical tail.” The team will now go over data and pick the most effective system for testing in flight using the Boeing ecoDemonstrator 757 flight test aircraft.

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