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MIT, NASA Scientists Build 'Morphing' Airplane Wings That Can Make Flight Efficient

Nov 05, 2016 05:55 AM EDT
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Humans have built an aircraft that fly faster and higher compared with a bird, but they haven't been able to match the elegance of these natural aviators. With a flick of the wing, these crazy animals can dive, swoop, and glide. Planes, on the other hand, depend on complicated and clunky machines to change their angle of flight, turn, or slow down.

Engineers at MIT and NASA now believe they can match the aviary resilience with a new type of bendable, "morphing" wing arrangement composed of eight tiny units made up of carbon fiber that are assembled by tiny robots. If the plan works, the system could make flight quieter, smoother, and additionally efficient. The new design could also ease the process of manufacturing and dramatically cut down fuel consumption by developing the wing's aerodynamics as reported by David Chandler at MIT News.

In the past, many experts have tried to create a reliant technique of deforming wings instead of using the traditional moving surfaces, but all those efforts had a really little impact, according to Neil Gershenfeld, director at MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms.

The new "morphing" wings are covered in a shiny orange flexible skin made by overlapping pieces that resemble feathers or scales. This gives the structure more flexibility and makes the surface smoother. The skin is composed of polyimide film with a thickness of 0.127 millimeter. Each of the subunits has varying degrees of stiffness, eventually giving each wing an adjustable flexibility. Two tiny motors can easily twist the whole wing, attuning the way it cuts while moving through the air.

These new building techniques will likely be implemented on unmanned aircraft and tiny drones. Researchers envision a future where some flights will use flapping wings, similar to that of a bird. The technology will alter the architecture of the aircraft completely, said Kenny Cheung, NASA's leader of the project.

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