NASA and MIT engineers have developed a new wing design that is bendable. The new bendable "morphing" wing will greatly make manufacturing and flight more efficient.
According to MIT News, the new architecture of the wing will make manufacturing it very simple. The tiny, lightweight subunits of the wing could be assembled by a team of small specialized robots that could also build the entire airframe.
MIT adds the wing design will also make fuel consumption more efficient by improving the wing's aerodynamics and its agility. A skin made of overlapping pieces would cover the wing to have an appearance that resembles scales or feathers.
Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, said in a paper that in order for them to be able to deform the wing, they "make the whole wing the mechanism." This allows the team to change the shape of the whole wing and twist it uniformly by activating two small motors that apply the twisting pressure. Airbus's Lead Technologist for emerging technology and concepts, Vincent Loubiere, said that what the team achieved is a "philosophical revolution." It opens up the "gate to disruptive innovation," he adds.
Wired reports that modern wings use flaps to shorten the take-off and landing distance of a plane and to boost its lift. Wings also use ailerons, which allow it to change directions. The problem with these mechanisms is that they create gaps in the edge of the wing when they are deployed. This, in turn, generates turbulent airflow, which is bad news for efficiency and noise.
NASA's Kenny Cheung, one of the leaders of the project, said that they were able to achieve better strength and stiffness at very low weights with their "building block approach." The team tested the wing on a dummy plane at NASA's Langley Research Center wind tunnel and was able to achieve terrific aerodynamics.
The new approach will likely get their start on unmanned aircraft and small drones. But Cheung sees great things ahead as the project "could change the architecture of the aircraft entirely."