April 21, 2019

New Shape-Shifting Airplane Wing Revealed by MIT and NASA Researchers

03 April 2019, 07:42 | Edward Lowe

NASA and MIT researchers show off new flexible airplane wing

MIT and NASA engineers demonstrate a new kind of airplane wing

Their new structure is a lightweight lattice framework, made of thousands of repeating, tiny triangles of matchstick-like struts, covered in a thin polymer layer.

The wing is able to match the shape to the loads at different angles of attack.

MIT alumni Kenneth Cheung and a team of engineers demonstrated the basic principle of how the wing works a few years back when they showcased it on a wing that measured roughly about a meter long - the size that would normally be used on a remote-controlled model aircraft. While the meter-long model they made was hand assembled, the process was created to be repetitive, so that later on, small, autonomous robots will probably be able to assemble the wings. The design allows for flexibility and even shape-shifting, so the wing can change as it moves through what the researchers poetically call "the phases of a flight"-takeoff and landing, cruising, maneuvering, etc". Simple building, testing and modification could allow greater flexibility in design and manufacture, while its light weight and adaptability could make aircraft much more efficient - a key goal for the aerospace sector as manufacturers and operators seek to counter rising emissions.

"You can make any geometry you want", according to Benjamin Jenett, a graduate student in MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms.

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A team of NASA and MIT engineers created a "radically" new kind of airplane wing.

On the off chance that you've had a seat by the window next to the wing of a plane, you've most likely watched as flaps on the wing engage and disengage as a plane takes off and lands.

This isn't an altogether new concept. They've brought the time required to produce each part - a hollow cube with tiny struts along each edge - down from several minutes to just 17 seconds.

"Now we have a manufacturing method. the parts are cheap", Jenett added. "We have boxes and boxes of them, all the same".

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The engineers will undoubtedly continue to make adjustments to flawless their design; however, they said the results are promising.

"Most promising near-term applications are structural applications for airships and space-based structures, such as antennas". In the meantime, it also has the potential to redesign other structures, like the wing-like blades of wind turbines.

The team included researchers at Cornell University, the University of California at Berkeley at Santa Cruz, NASA Langley Research Center, Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania, and Qualified Technical Services, Inc., in Moffett Field, California.

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