NASA’s New Shape-Changing Wings Airplane

NASA has successfully tested a morphing wing technology on a Gulfstream III airplane. The wings are, in fact, flexible and can change shape mid-flight.

flex wing nasa

A modified Gulfstream III airplane used for the ACTE flexible-flap research project. Photo credits: NASA.

Airplane technology has just got wilder: a vehicle with wings that can change their shape during flight have been fully tested by NASA recently. The experimental Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) wing proved to be promising after the completion of the test flight series consisting of 22 sets that were conducted in the last 6 months.

“We are thrilled to have accomplished all of our flight test goals without encountering any significant technical issues,” said Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) program manager Pete Flick.

The flexible wings were used on a Gulfstream III airplane. On one side, they can rotate -2 degrees, and up to 30 degrees in the other. The movement is allowed by servos and actuators that are found inside the shell of the aircraft; they pull strings that then modify the surface of the wings. The alteration in the shape of the wings either increases or decreases the drag of air over them.

Furthermore, the wings account for a considerable decrease in fuel that is used up by around 12 %. They are therefore environmental-friendly in this respect.

“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,”said Fay Collier, project manager for ERA (Environmentally Responsible Aviation).

The new wings also have other advantages: for instance, they are not as noisy as rigid ones since they minimise drag.

Now, more tests have to be carried out before the wings are installed onto other vehicles, including existing planes.

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