NASA-Led Team Tests New Material to Fold Aircraft Wings

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NASA has led a two-day test at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California on a new material that works to fold aircraft wings while in flight.

The space agency said Friday the demonstration is part of the Spanwise Adaptive Wing project, which seeks to determine if a material called “shape memory alloy” provides the capacity to fold outer sections of aircraft wings and their control surfaces to different angles.

“Folding wings has been done in the past, but we wanted to prove the feasibility of doing this using shape memory alloy technology, which is compact, lightweight and can be positioned in convenient places on the aircraft,” said Othmane Benafan, SAW co-principal investigator.

NASA’s Glenn Research Center developed the alloy and worked with Boeing to use the material with an actuator to conduct research in flight.

Kennesaw, Georgia-based aerospace company Area-I operated its remotely controlled “flying laboratory” dubbed Prototype Technology-Evaluation Research Aircraft fitted with an alloy-actuated, wing-folding mechanism for the flight test series.

NASA noted that the alloy can be installed on subsonic aircraft, including commercial airliners, to achieve optimized controllability and lessen dependency on heavier aircraft components for potentially reduced fuel consumption.

The new technology may also allow future long-winged aircraft to move around airport grounds and help pilots adapt to various flight conditions.

NASA, which also envisions the use of shape memory alloy for supersonic flight, plans to conduct additional SAW flights in the summer in efforts to expand the functionality of the new technology.

Engineers are also working to install the alloy on the wings of an F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft, the space agency added.

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