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TESTING


Artist’s concept of how the construction robots could work WINGWORK


NASA is heading a team trying to revolutionise how wings respond to aerodynamic forces


N


ASA, MIT and a team of researchers from Kaunas


University of Technology in Lithuania, and the firm Qualified Technical Services have been experimenting with a new type of wing construction designed to flex in response to its flight requirements. Instead of the usual solid metal or composite framework with an outer skin, the new wing is made up of hundreds of minute polymer pieces of a mixture of stiff and flexible parts that form a lattice. The whole wing can


deform, or just a part of it for a more subtle geometry change. The researchers claim this means that the wing is actually mostly empty space, with the tiny triangles of matchstick-like struts making a ‘metamaterial’ offering the low density of an aerogel with the stiffness of a rubber-like polymer.


The theory behind it is that the different stages of flight have different requirements from a wing, and even with careful aileron design there are compromises causing a loss of performance. By allowing the wing to deform


it can be better tailored to the job at hand whether that be take-off, cruising at altitude


or landing. Team member Nicholas Cramer from


NASA Ames in California confirms, “We’re able to gain efficiency by matching the shape to the loads at


www.engineerlive.com 15


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