NASA and MIT researchers have teamed up to build as well as test a radically new kind of airplane wing that is assembled from hundreds of tiny identical pieces. Due to its design, the wing can change shape to control the plane’s flight, and provides a significant boost in aircraft production, flight, and maintenance efficiency. Read more for a video and additional information.
Rather than requiring separate movable surfaces such as ailerons to control the roll and pitch of the plane, as traditional wings do, the new assembly system makes it possible to deform the whole wing, or parts of it, by incorporating a mix of stiff as well as flexible components in its structure. The tiny sub-assemblies, which are bolted together to form an open, lightweight lattice framework, are then covered with a thin layer of similar polymer material as the framework. This forms a mechanical “metamaterial” that combines the structural stiffness of a rubber-like polymer, along with the lightness and low density of an aerogel.
We’re able to gain efficiency by matching the shape to the loads at different angles of attack. We’re able to produce the exact same behavior you would do actively, but we did it passively,” said Cramer, the paper’s lead author.