Shapeshifting Wing Could Save Millions In fuel Costs

Scientists at NASA have successfully completed six months of tests of a new “morphing” trailing edge which could save aircraft operators “millions of dollars annually in fuel costs”, by reducing aircraft weight.

Scientists at NASA have successfully completed six months of tests of a new “morphing” trailing edge which could save aircraft operators “millions of dollars annually in fuel costs”, by reducing aircraft weight.

The “adaptive compliant trailing edge” (ACTE), which has been developed by FlexSys and the Air Force Research Laboratory, was installed on a Gulfstream III jet and flown on 22 test missions.

The system, which the scientists say can be retrofitted, replaces conventional aluminium flaps with shape-changing assemblies that “form seamless bendable and twistable surfaces”. The ACTE system not only reduces the aircraft’s weight, but offers significant noise reduction.

The test flights are the culmination of 17 years research and development and saw the shape shifting flaps achieve angles ranging from -2 degrees up to 30 degrees.

"We are thrilled to have accomplished all of our flight test goals without encountering any significant technical issues,” said AFRL programme manager Pete Flick. “The technology now is ready to dramatically improve aircraft efficiency for the Air Force and the commercial aviation industry.”

The ACTE project forms part of NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) programme of research.

“The completion of this flight test campaign is a big step for NASA's 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.”

You can read more about NASA’s ERA projects in Chris Kjelgaard’s features on future aircraft design in issues 135 and 136 of ATE&M.

Image credit: NASA Photo/Jim Ross

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