NASA Tests Foldable Plane Wings

Planes that can fold their wings to different angles while in the air have the potential to fly faster than their peers, and NASA has recently made headway into their development. In a series of recent trials, NASA successfully tested a new lightweight material to fold the outer portions of aircraft wings during flight. The material can be applied to both subsonic and supersonic flights, and will improve the aerodynamic ability of both, the space agency said.

NASA Tests Foldable Plane Wings
NASA Tests Foldable Plane Wings

The space agency said the demonstration is part of the Spanwise Adaptive Wing project, which seeks to determine if a material called “shape memory alloy” provides the capacity to fold outer sections of aircraft wings and their control surfaces to different angles. “Folding wings has been done in the past, but we wanted to prove the feasibility of doing this using shape memory alloy technology, which is compact, lightweight and can be positioned in convenient places on the aircraft,” said Othmane Benafan, SAW co-principal investigator.

For the first two flights, the wing tips were rigged to fold downward, while later flights featured rearranging the hardware to achieve 70-degree upward deflection. Wing-folding maneuvers were achieved in flight within three minutes each.

The team now plans to continue developing the technology until the foldable wings can move both up and down during a single flight. At the moment, they can only fold in a single direction in the air, and team members have to rearrange the hardware every time they want to test if the wings can move in the opposite direction. They’ll be busy making that happen within the year, since they’re aiming to conduct the next batch of test flights by summer of 2018.

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