Morphing wings: A revolutionary concept
The aircrafts that changes configuration of its different parts like wings, fuselage, tail etc at different flight conditions is morphing aircraft. Inspired by nature and previous inventions, concept of morphing aircraft wing has developed that increases plane efficiency.
MIT and NASA researchers have developed morphing aircraft wing structure being inspired from Wright brothers’ flyer 1, the first powered flight, where they have controlled the motion of flyer 1 using wires and pulleys that bent and twisted the wood and canvas wings.
The manufacturing process of this bendable, morphing wing system is quite simpler than traditional aluminum. A team of small specialized robots build this system by assembling tiny light weight subunits. Miniature robots crawl along or inside the wing structure to assemble pieces. An inspection robot finds where the broken part is and replaces it, and keeps the aircraft 100 percent healthy at all times.
The new wings are cloaked in a ‘skin’ made over overlapping pieces that look very similar to scales or feathers, which makes the structure flexible and smoother aerodynamics. Skin is made from 0.127 mm-thick Kapton (polyimide film), a film that resist extreme heat and cold, cut into strips with hole patterns on a CO2 laser cutter.
Wind-tunnel tests of this structure showed that it at least matches the aerodynamic properties of a conventional wing, at about one-tenth the weight. And adding a layer of ‘skin’ to the design was found to enhance its overall performance.
Two small motors twist each wingtip while in flight. That allows the overall wing to change shape to reduce drag, increase the stall angle (to change the amount of lift), and reduce vibration. For the test, the morphing wings were configured to use the twisting process to replace the ailerons and flaps.
In a nutshell, this newly developed wing architecture not only increase aircraft’s performance but also reduces cost, fuel consumption and pollution.