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Shape-Shifting Airplane Wing  Geek Impulse News

Image: Eli Gershenfeld, NASA Ames Research


One of the fun things about flying is a wind seat on the wing. You get to see all the moving parts function during the flight. Even during landing and take off. That is because their purpose is taking off, landing, cruising, and maneuvering. Technically a wing of a plane is designed to bend at almost a 90-degree angle. Imagine just how cool it would be if the wing itself can actually change shape. A team of researchers from MIT and NASA is working towards such a technology.

The team explains the futuristic redesigned airplane wing in a journal paper called Smart Materials and Structures. The described they went about building a wing from hundreds of identical, lightweight cube-like structures that are bolted together. Then they are covered with a polymer material. The design itself will allow for the shape of a wing to change automatically. It will adjust itself to whatever configuration that is most optimal for the phase of flying the plane is in. For example, one configuration for take-off, for example, and another for landing.


Shape-Shifting Airplane Wing Geek Impulse News
© Image: Kenny Cheung, NASA Ames Research Center

The result is a wing that is much lighter, and thus much more energy efficient, than those with conventional designs, whether made from metal or composites

MIT/NASA Researchers

Most promising near-term applications are structural applications for airships and space-based structures, such as antennas.

Aurora Flight Sciences structures researcher Daniel Campbell told MIT New


Shape-Shifting Airplane Wing Geek Impulse News
Artists concept shows integrated wing-body aircraft, enabled by the new construction method being assembled by a group of specialized robots, shown in orange. © Image: Eli Gershenfeld, NASA Ames Research Center

According to MIT News:

“We’re able to gain efficiency by matching the shape to the loads at different angles of attack,” says Cramer, the paper’s lead author. “We’re able to produce the exact same behavior you would do actively, but we did it passively.”

The resulting lattice, he says, has a density of 5.6 kilograms per cubic meter. By way of comparison, rubber has a density of about 1,500 kilograms per cubic meter. “They have the same stiffness, but ours has less than roughly one-thousandth of the density,” Jenett says.

MIT News

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. The work was supported by NASA ARMD Convergent Aeronautics Solutions Program (MADCAT Project), and the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms.

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