Researchers Work On Morphing Aircraft


It’s a simple idea: If a wing could change shape in flight, it could do things that our rigid wings can’t do. The Wright brothers attempted it with wing warping. We use the same idea when we employ flaps and ailerons, and some military aircraft have variable-geometry wings that can sweep back and change aspect ratio in flight. This week, the University of Dayton was awarded a $580,000 federal contract to further the development of “morphing” aircraft. The researchers will evaluate flexible-skin concepts that would enable wings to change shape, develop better simulations, and try to find ways to use devices within the wing skins to recover or “harvest” energy as the wings move. In August, the first in-flight demonstration of a truly shape-changing, or morphing, wing was accomplished by a small U.S. company, NextGen Aeronautics, funded by Boeing. NextGen, based in Torrance, Calif., flew a remotely piloted vehicle called the MFX-1 at speeds of 100 to 120 knots, and changed the wing area in flight by 40 percent and the wingspan by 30 percent. Sweep varied from 15 degrees to 35 degrees, FlightGlobal reported.