When it comes to flying, we all know the importance of aerodynamics-the better they are, the better the flight. Less fuel is used, and planes fly faster.
NASA is beginning to test foldable wings to help improve flight performance even more.
NASA Testing the Spanwise Adaptive Wing
Foldable wings have actually existed for some time, but the system required heavy hydraulic systems to operate. The new technology NASA is testing, called the Spanwise Adaptive Wing (SWA), uses a shape memory alloy.
This material is temperature-activated and the wings can move up to 70 degrees up or down-whichever will allow for a better flight at that moment. When the alloy is heated, it activates a twisting motion which works to move the wings up or down. The material was developed by both NASA and Boeing.
Check out the testing in action here:
NASA tested the technology at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in CA. The project is one in that NASA is working on with both Bowing Research & Technology and Area-I, Inc. The memory alloy used is built into the aircraft's actuator. The system weighs up to 80% less than systems used in the past.
The Future of Flight
This technology, when applied to commercial flights, will allow plans to better adapt to flying conditions. Pilots will have better control of their aircraft, According to NANA, the implementation of this technology on commercial aircraft would allow for the removal of heavier parts, such as the tail rudder, which could also help to improve fuel consumption.
This technology will really help planes traveling at supersonic speeds, as the aircraft would be able to fold their wings down to "'ride the wave' of supersonic flight," according to SAW Principal Investigator Matt Moholt.
The UAV test plane (which you saw in the above video), called Prototype Technology-Evaluation Research Aircraft, or PTERA, was developed by Area-I. As of right now, the wings can only fold either up or down during one flight. NASA is working to develop the technology even further so the wings can fold both up and down during flight.
The next round of testing is scheduled to happen this summer, so we'll be hearing more about this technology soon!