'Morphing' Wings Could Improve Efficiency
The Wright brothers first came up with the idea, after watching
how birds flew through the air by changing the shape of their wings
to alter direction. Their wing-warping technique was soon
abandoned, though, in favor of stiff ailerons hinged on the wings
pioneered by Glenn Curtiss.
This design has pretty much stayed the same for 100 years... but
now, scientists are going back to the Wright brothers to change not
only the shape of the wings, but of the entire aircraft.
Instead of calling it warping, they're now calling it "morphing"
-- that sounds more high-tech -- but the idea of flexing, twisting,
or changing a wing's shape is as old as Orville and Wilbur. What's
more, it may help make airplanes more maneuverable, and safer.
The idea, of course, isn't completely foreign to recent airplane
designs -- with the F-111 Aardvark, the recently-retired F-14
Tomcat, and today's B-1 bomber (below) employing some of these
concepts in their variable-sweep wing designs. On all three
aircraft, pivots on the wings' leading edges allow the wings to be
extended forward for slow flight, and swept back into a modified
delta shape for high-speed operations.
The Associated Press reports the University of Dayton in Ohio
has received a grant to study modern techniques to morph airplane
wings. NASA and the Air Force are also working on the technique --
and, in fact, are even testing a flexing wing on an F/A-18
The goal is eventually to harness the movement of the wings to
not only make the aircraft more efficient... but like the birds, to
help supply a little forward thrust as well.
Who else just had the image of an F/A-18 flapping its wings go
through their heads? Just us?