A new wing design, which could cut fuel costs and result in a lighter, quieter and more efficient aircraft, may soon be a reality. Dubbed the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE), an innovative seamless and bendable wing flap design is currently undergoing test flights at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, in California.
“The first flight went as planned — we validated many key elements of the experimental trailing edges,” said Thomas Rigney, ACTE Project Manager at Armstrong. “We expect this technology to make future aircraft lighter, more efficient, and quieter. It also has the potential to save hundreds of millions of dollars annually in fuel costs.”
The ACTE project is a joint effort between NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and is part of the space agency’s green aviation project which aims to make future airliners quieter and more fuel-efficient.
“This flight test is one of the NASA Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) Project’s eight large-scale integrated technology demonstrations to show design improvements in drag, weight, noise, emission and fuel reductions,” said Fay Collier, ERA project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
Built by FlexSys, Inc., of Ann Arbor, Michigan, with AFRL funding through the Air Force’s Small Business Innovative Research program, the seamless wing flap design incorporates a variable geometry airfoil system called FlexFoil.
The design can be retrofitted to existing airplane wings, as it has been on the modified Gulfstream III test aircraft, or integrated into brand new airframes potentially resulting in reduced wing structural weight, improve fuel economy and efficiency, and a reduction in environmental impacts. Continued tests are expected to ultimately validate these goals.
If all goes as planned, “the ACTE technology is expected to have far-reaching effects on future aviation. Advanced lightweight materials will reduce wing structural weight and give engineers the ability to aerodynamically tailor the wings to promote improved fuel economy and more efficient operations, while reducing environmental impacts.”