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NASA Tests Light, Foldable Plane Wings for Supersonic Flights

Accepted submission by Fnord666 at 2018-01-27 23:53:59

NASA is experimenting with planes [] whose outer wing sections can fold up or down depending on the current flight conditions. Even more interesting is that they are doing it with "shape memory alloy" rather than hydraulics.

Planes that can fold their wings to different angles while in the air have the potential to fly faster than their peers, and NASA has recently made headway into their development. The space agency has conducted a series of test flights proving that it can control the wings it designed to move into any position and that they have aerodynamic benefits. While the technology has existed for a long time, it typically requires the use of heavy hydraulic systems. NASA's version doesn't need that kind of machinery: it relies on the properties of a temperature-activated material called shape memory alloy instead. Upon being heated, the alloy activates a twisting motion in the tubes serving as the wings' actuator, moving the wings' outer portion up to 70 degrees upwards or downwards.

The foldable wings will give typical planes like commercial airliners a way to adapt to different flight conditions. They can give pilots more control over their aircraft and could even lead to more fuel efficient flights. Planes designed to fly at supersonic speeds (faster than the speed of sound), however, will get more out of this technology.

As Matt Moholt, the principal director of the Spanwise Adaptive Wing project, said:

"There's a lot of benefit in folding the wing tips downward to sort of 'ride the wave' in supersonic flight, including reduced drag. This may result in more efficient supersonic flight. Through this effort, we may be able to enable this element to the next generation of supersonic flight, to not only reduce drag but also increase performance, as you transition from subsonic to supersonic speeds. This is made possible using shape memory alloy."

Video: NASA Examines Technology To Fold Aircraft Wings In Flight []

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