A new type of aircraft wing combined as a puzzle could make for lighter and more efficient aircraft.
NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers tested the wing design in a NASA wind tunnel where the technology performed better than expected, Benjamin Jenett, one of the wing's developers and a MIT graduate student, said in a statement. The new wing is lightweight and flexible, which can adjust its shape mid flight depending on the pilot's needs.
"You can make any geometry you want," Jenett said. [Supersonic! The 11 Fastest Military Planes]
Conventional flight wings are made of metal and composite materials so they are quite heavy. They also involve moving parts, such as flaps and ailerons, you might see tilting up and down if you get a collision seat on a cross-country flight.
The new wing is made of thousands of small triangular struts, each made of matchstick-shaped polymer pieces. The team made the struts from a polyethylene resin injected into a mold. The grid of the struts was then assembled in the hand in a 1
The lattice-like wing is covered with a thin sheet of polymer and has a density of only 3.8 kg. per. cubic meter (5.6 kg per cubic meter).
But ease is not the only advantage of the new wing design. It is also flexible. By strategically placing rigid and flexible components in the grid pattern, researchers can build a wing that changes shape in response to the stresses around it. Instead of lifting a flap or moving an aileron, a pilot could easily maneuver the plane and the wing would automatically change the shape.
"We can achieve efficiency by matching the shape of the loads at different angles of attack," said investigator Nicholas Cramer, a research scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, in the statement. "We can produce the exact same behavior you would do actively, but we did it passively."
The research was published April 1 in the journal Smart Materials and Structures.
Originally published  Live Science .