Birds are the ultimate flying machines. They can adjust the position of their feather to suit the airflow, which helps them fly efficiently. Jets, on the other hand, have rigid wings. And even though flaps can be extended during landing, the wing is not able to adjust efficiently to airflow.
Researchers working together on the European consortium project called Smart Intelligent Aircraft Structures (SARISTU), want to make airplane wings mimic bird’s. A more flexible wing could reduce jet fuel by six percent. Although that number sounds low up front, consider the fact that 2.2 billion people a year board a flight either for business or pleasure.
The researchers developed a flap made from a silicon skin that has alternating zones of rigid material and soft materials.
“There are five hard and three soft zones, enclosed within a silicon skin cover extending over the top,” said Andreas Lühring from Fraunhofer IFAM.
Under flight conditions, the flap would rotate like a bird’s wings. A computer algorithm would record air flow in real time and adjust the flap to its optimal position.
The flexible parts of the flap are made of a elastomeric foam that stays pliable in freezing temperatures as low as minus 112⁰ Fahrenheit.
Fraunhofer and its partners showed off four prototypes at the ILA Berlin Air Show.
Credit: Fraunhofer IFAM