Just Wing It: Aircraft Wing Technology Glides Forward

View over airplane wingWhat’s the next frontier in commercial and private aviation technology? Aircraft wings! Major aerospace organizations in the U.S. and U.K. are working to create a new generation of aircraft wing technology that will improve aircraft performance by

  • boosting fuel efficiency,
  • lowering manufacturing costs, and
  • reducing aircraft noise.

NASA: Wings that change shape

Scientists at NASA are working on a new aircraft wing surface that can change shape in-flight. The focus of this project is on making planes quieter and improving fuel efficiency. Researchers have replaced traditional wings’ aluminum flaps with shape-changing assemblies that can bend and twist to improve aerodynamic efficiency and reduce noise during takeoff and landing.

The technology is currently being tested on a modified Gulfstream III aircraft at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

Composite wing structures

Across the Atlantic, GKN Aerospace Services is leading a 13-partner effort, including participants such as Bombardier Aerospace, GE Aviation, and Spirit AeroSystems as well as several U.K. universities, to design composite wing structures. Backed by the U.K.’s Aerospace Technology Institute, this new project has the following objectives:

  • Produce innovative wing architectures.
  • Assess tools to improve and enhance product design, process, and final product.
  • Advance composite and metallic manufacturing, assembly technology, and processes.
  • Develop innovative inspection and repair tools.

The U.K. project emerged from the recently completed Structures Technology Maturity (STeM), research project. The STeM program brought together the 13-member consortium of leading supply chain and aerospace companies to support development of new concepts in wing design. These concepts will push the boundaries of aircraft performance and contribute to the development of next-generation aircraft.

With a little luck, the new generation of automated processes and technologies will expand manufacturing capabilities and improve the speed and quality of aircraft wing production. Ideally, the new aircraft wing designs will also improve noise-reduction efforts for airports around the globe.

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