One way to make aeroplanes fly more efficiently is to drill millions of tiny holes in the leading edges of the wings. Like the dimples on a golf ball this has the effect of reducing drag. However, producing these holes on a manufacturing scale is not yet commercially feasible.
Researchers at Heriot-Watt University, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the aerospace company BAE SYSTEMS, have carried out a series of fundamental studies on drilling such holes using laser beams. The results of the work are being assessed by BAE SYSTEMS to determine whether the airflow characteristics of holes produced in this way are suitable.
Dr Duncan Hand is a member of the research team. “It’s been known for a long time that arrays of millions of holes, 50 or 60 micrometres in diameter, on the leading edge of aircraft wings can improve the air flow characteristics around the wing,” he says. “But there’s been no cost-effective way of producing these holes accurately, quickly and cheaply – it is important to justify the increased manufacturing costs against any improvement in the aircraft’s efficiency.”
Jane Reck | alphagalileo
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