NASA hopes bug-repellent coating will reduce fuel emissions

US scientists hope to cut back on the cost of flying and reduce fuel emissions by preventing bugs from sticking to the side of aircraft.

Experts from NASA said that an accumulation of insect remains can interrupt the flow of air over wings, increasing drag and wasting more fuel.

Fay Collier, manager for the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) Project, said: “Increased drag means increased fuel consumption, which results in more pollutants in the atmosphere.”

NASA will fly a Boeing 757 airplane called the ecoDemonstrator this Spring to assess how well five different coatings repel insect residue in an experiment called Insect Accretion and Mitigation. It is claimed that maintaining a smooth surface over the wing could reduce fuel consumption by up to 6 per cent.

“The goal of our project is to develop aircraft concepts and technologies to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment over the next 30 years,” Collier said.

Engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, developed and tested a number of non-stick coatings in a small wind tunnel and on the wing of a NASA Langley jet. During 15 planned flights researchers will install sections of coatings onto the leading edge slats of the ecoDemonstrator 757.

First they will establish a baseline using uncoated surfaces to capture insect accumulation rates. Then they will remove those sections and install samples of the five treated panels.

One of the things engineers want to test is the durability of the coating. According to NASA’s researchers treated surfaces will only be effective as drag reducers if they can withstand harsh flying environments.

“Solutions to reduce fuel use by one or two percent may not sound like much,” said Collier. “But shaving aircraft fuel consumption even a few percentage points can save millions of dollars and help protect the environment from harmful emissions.”

The experiment is one of eight large-scale ERA integrated technology demonstrations being conducted in 2015 that will bring NASA's ERA project to a close.

The demonstrations were designed to further the project's goals of simultaneous reduction in the amount of fuel used, the level of noise and the emissions produced by future commercial transport planes.

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