To maximize a planes efficiency over a broader range of flight speeds, Penn State engineers have developed a concept for morphing airplane wings that change shape like a birds and are covered with a segmented outer skin like the scales of a fish.
Morphing HECS wing: showing the unmorphed and morphiged configurations. The wing tips are bent downwards to provide yaw control.(Courtsey: NASA Langley)
Dr. George Lesieutre, professor of aerospace engineering who leads the project, says, "Airplanes today are a design compromise. They have a fixed-wing structure that is not ideal for every part of a typical flight. Being able to change the shape of the wings to reduce drag and power, which vary with flight speed, could optimize fuel consumption so that commercial planes could fly more efficiently."
Morphing wings can also be useful for military defense and homeland security when applied to unmanned surveillance planes that need to fly quickly to a distant point, loiter at slow speed for a period of time and then return, Lesieutre explains. Flying efficiently at high speed requires small, perhaps, swept wings. Flying at slow speed for long periods requires long narrow wings. The morphing wings designed by the Penn State team can change both wing area and cross section shape to accommodate both slow and fast flight requirements.
Barbara Hale | Penn State
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