Smart jet

The development of adjustable wings will lead to more reliable and cheaper aircraft

Published: Sunday 31 August 1997

the us Air Force is developing an Active Aeroelastic Wing ( aaw ) that may bring a lasting impact on the aircraft industry by making jet fighters and supersonic passenger planes cheaper. The smart wing is being developed at Wright-Patterson Labora-tory, Ohio, usa. It can change shape to suit the flying conditions ( Flight International, June 30, 1997).

The flight tests of the wing are scheduled to begin in ad 2000 at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( nasa )'s Dryden Flight Research Center. The new wing's control is so effective that it will make the aircraft's tail redundant. According to designers, the existing wings are not very reliable during a war.

At present, the flaps on the trailing edge of a stiff wing change the airflow around the wing to enable variation of speed and direction.The aaw is also far lighter than existing wings. However, the far more flexible wing in aaw changes shape according to the angle of panels at the front, rear and side of the wing. These controls are capable only of moving up to five degrees up or down. The small movements are amplified by the new wing that is thinner than existing versions, allowing it to bend and change shape and make the plane easier to control at high speeds.

Further, the new wings can be swept back far more than the existing wings. This would increase speed and flap movements would have a greater effect on the direction of the plane. The computer-controlled wing will also apply wind forces to twist itself into the desired shape, improving its manoeuvrability.

"All we are doing is using the wind force, rather than trying to control it with a stiff wing. Instead moving the rudders up or down, we think the aaw will be able to control its entire shape using these new control panels," explain the designers.

The specially-designed computer operated system will make the pilot's tasks easier. The designers are also developing a digital flight-control system ( fcs ). It is a high-powered computer located in the cockpit that can automatically detect the plane's movement and reshape the aircraft's wings to ensure the plane is able to manoeuvre more effectively. The software that would be used to control fcs mimics the way the brain works.

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