Shape-Changing Wings Successfully Tested


NASA says it has successfully flight-tested wings that can change shape in flight without seams or gaps and is calling it a next-generation breakthrough in aircraft design. In cooperation with the Air Force and FlexSys Inc., the developer of the system, NASA mounted the morphing wings on a Gulfstream bizjet and put it through its paces. “We are thrilled to have accomplished all of our flight test goals without encountering any significant technical issues,” Air Force Research Laboratory program manager Pete Flick said in a joint news release. By eliminating the drag-inducing structural components of conventional control surfaces, the researchers are hoping for significant efficiency improvements.

Having an almost infinitely moldable wing will allow the systems that control it to find the “sweet spot” for efficiency in all phases of flight and in all flight profiles. “The completion of this flight test campaign at Armstrong [Flight Research Center] is a big step for NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation [ERA] Project,” said the project’s 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.” The added bonus is that much of the noise made by aircraft on landing and takeoff is from the flaps and the gapless result of the wing shaping cuts noise by 40 percent.