Technology that promises to cut fuel consumption and aircraft noise emissions has been tested in flight

Nasa tests shape-changing wing flaps for future aircraft

Innovative shape-changing wing flaps designed to reduce fuel consumption as well as the unwanted noise of future aircraft designs have passed a first series of flight tests.

Developed as part of a joint project by Nasa and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the new wing flaps have been flown 22 times within the past six months on the space agency’s experimental Gulfstream III jet.

The partnering agencies said the test flights, which saw the wing flaps flown at angles ranging from minus two degrees to 30 degrees, achieved all objectives.

“We are thrilled to have accomplished all of our flight test goals without encountering any significant technical issues,” said AFRL Program Manager Pete Flick. “These flights cap 17 years of technology maturation, beginning with AFRL’s initial Phase 1 SBIR contract with FlexSys, and the technology now is ready to dramatically improve aircraft efficiency for the Air Force and the commercial aviation industry.”

The new flaps could be integrated in to existing aircraft wings as well as in to newly designed airframes.

Nasa said the technology would allow engineers to reduce the weight of wing structures. The mass reduction, together with improved aerodynamic behaviour, could help airlines cut their fuel expenses by millions of dollars each year. In addition to the fuel costs reduction, the shape-changing wing flaps would help reduce noise emissions during take-off and landing – the major nuisance caused by air traffic for residents living around airports.

"The completion of this flight test campaign at Armstrong (Flight Research Center) is a big step for Nasa’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project (ERA)," said Fay Collier, Nasa project manager. "This is the first of eight large-scale integrated technology demonstrations ERA is finishing up this year that are designed to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment."

The agencies have been working on the innovative wing flap development since the late 1990s. First AFLR together with private firm FlexSys developed several leading and trialling edge designs which they subsequently tested in a wind tunnel. In 2009, Nasa agreed to install the wing flaps on its experimental jet to conduct test flights as part of the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) project.

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