Friday, 19 April, 2019

NASA and MIT model new airplane wing for flight efficiency

MIT and NASA engineers demonstrate a new kind of airplane wing NASA and MIT researchers show off new flexible airplane wing
Cary Marshall | 03 April, 2019, 02:39

A new type of airplane wing assembled like a jigsaw puzzle could make for lighter, more efficient aircraft. The plane has wings which are a mixture of stiff and flexible structures, allowing them to change flight mid-flight which would make them much more aerodynamic.

The new approach to wing construction could afford greater flexibility in the design and manufacturing of future aircraft.

Benjamin Jenett, an MIT graduate student, told MIT News that the wing performed better than expected during a test in a wind tunnel at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia. It is also far lighter than conventional wings, and would therefore use much less energy.

The new wing is made of thousands of little triangular struts, each made of matchstick-sized polymer pieces.

But a wing that is, say, constantly deformable could better suit the necessary configuration for each stage.

"We're able to produce the exact same behaviour you would do actively, but we did it passively".

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This is all accomplished by the careful design of the relative positions of struts with different amounts of flexibility or stiffness, designed so that the wing, or sections of it, bend in specific ways in response to particular kinds of stresses.

A very lightweight wing that can deform to the optimal shape for each flying situation results in a big increase in flight efficiency, which in turn should lead to significant fuel savings. The new version, about five times as long, is comparable in size to the wing of a real single-seater plane and could be easy to manufacture.

Preferably by a swarm of small, simple autonomous assembly robots, Jenett suggested. Researchers used injection molding with polyethylene resin to produce the individual subunits, taking a mere 17 seconds to pump out each one. "While there's an upfront investment in tooling, once that's done, the parts are cheap". The lattice reportedly has the same stiffness as rubber, but with much lower density - 5.6kg per m, compared to 1,500kg.

The hand-assembled prototype wing, which went through testing in a NASA wind tunnel, is made up of hundreds of small identical parts.

The engineers will undoubtedly continue to make adjustments to flawless their design; however, they said the results are promising.

Aircraft interiors seem to get more and more cramped with each passing year, but in terms of overall plane design, not much has changed recently. With this technology, we might be able to break away from the "tube with wings" design and utilize a more efficient configuration - possibly an integrated body and wing structure.

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