NASA tests new type of airplane wing

Artistic view of an airplane using the new wing structure. [Image: Eli Gershenfeld / NASA Ames]

Flying wing

NASA announced the results of the first wind tunnel tests done with a new type of airplane wing.

It is a wing that becomes the very body of the airplane, a concept known as flying wing or airplane-wing .

Instead of several separate movable surfaces, such as ailerons to control longitudinal and transverse angulation, such as conventional wings, the concept makes it possible to deform the entire wing, or parts thereof, by incorporating a mixture of rigid and flexible components into its structure.

The tiny subassemblies, which are screwed to form an open and light truss structure, are then covered with a thin layer of polymeric material.

The result is a wing that is much lighter and therefore much more energy efficient than conventional designs made of metal or composites, says the team at NASA's Ames Research Center and MIT.

The wing is assembled from hundreds of identical subunits. It was tested in a NASA wind tunnel. [Image: Kenny Cheung / NASA Ames]

Metamaterial handle

The wing structure is made up of thousands of tiny triangles with phosphor stick-like supports.

As it consists mainly of void spaces, it forms a mechanical metamaterial that combines the structural rigidity of a polymer similar to rubber with the lightness and low density of an airgel.

The wing has a density of 5.6 kilograms per cubic meter - for comparison, the rubber has a density of about 1,500 kilograms per cubic meter.

The expectation is that this concept will allow a significant increase in flight efficiency, reduced maintenance and increased aircraft production, say researchers.
This initial prototype was assembled by hand, but future versions could be assembled by miniature robots. [Image: Kenny Cheung / NASA Ames]

Aircraft Efficiency

Each of the phases of the flight - takeoff and landing, cruise, maneuvers and so on - has its own different set of optimal wing parameters. Therefore, a conventional rigid wing is necessarily a compromise that is not optimized for any of them, sacrificing efficiency. A constantly deformable wing can provide a much better approximation of the best configuration for each stage.

"We can gain efficiency by combining shape with loads at different angles of attack. We can produce exactly the same behavior that you would do actively, but we did it passively," said Nicholas Cramer, one of the makers of the morphological wing prototype.
Artistic concept of an airplane-wing. [Image: MIT / NASA]

New aircraft formats

This wing-fuselage concept will also allow aircraft to change shape.

The fact that most aircraft have the same shape - essentially a winged tube - is due to costs. It is not always the most efficient way, but massive investments in design, tools and processes. easy to maintain long-established configurations, "said team member Benjamin Jenett.


Elastic shape morphing of ultralight structures by programmable assembly
Nicholas B. Cramer, Daniel W. Cellucci, Olivia B. Formoso, Christine E. Gregg, Benjamin E. Jenett, Joseph H. Kim, Martynas Lendraitis, Sean S. Swei, Greenfield T. Trinh, Khanh V. Trinh, Kenneth C. Cheung
 Smart Materials and Structures
 Vol .: 28, Number 5
 DOI: 10.1088 / 1361-665X / ab0ea2

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