NASA’s Shape-morphing Airplane Wings Pan Out Well in Initial Tests

May 22, 2015, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

NASA’s latest testing with aircraft equipment had centered around a shape-morphing wing, which they have been working on along with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

The initial flight-test for these were carried out at Armstrong Flight Research Center, California. And as it seems, conventional flaps may soon be paving the way to the new flexible wing system.

Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) , as it  is called by the developers, features a shape-changing wing that can bend in between a range of -2 to 30 degrees.


The test involved the action of these wings when subjected to hard banking as well as extreme pressure conditions. Gulfstream III jets were used for the testing, whose pilots deemed the new flight control surface to be smooth.

NASA employed preset angle positioning of the wings to bring down risks involved. However, they say that ACTE can alter the angle to requirements, even when in midflight. They also added that existing aircraft can be retrofitted with flexible wings, which could wipe out the compatibility requirement of a complete redesign.

What it brings to the aviation department is expected to be a net profit of over millions. NASA’s technology can lift the efficiency of an aircraft by around 12%. That’s coming along with a weight drop, which in-turn will reduce the fuel consumption in bulk.

The technology also helps in cutting down the noise by 40%. Although being developed for military aircraft use at the beginning, NASA holds the desire to expand the technology simultaneously to commercial aviation sector too.

Efforts for a flexible wing date back to the early 2000s, during which AFRL tied up with FlexSys to come-up with a shape morphing wing. Absence of technical difficulties were then encountered, but looks like  we could soon bid goodbye to the prevailing flap system to witness some new-age efficiency.

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