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NASA is Greening Up Airplanes, Making Them Quiet and Efficient


NASA-tests-ACTE-flexible-flap-Gulfstream-III-537x357Emissions from air travel have been a topic of intense discussion over the past couple of years. The number of flights has risen greatly, while not much has been done on cutting down the amount of emissions. In their search for a solution to this pressing problem, NASA is looking into redesigning components of the airplanes to make them greener.

A team of engineers at NASA has been working on changing the shape of one of the key components of airplanes to make them more aerodynamic, which should lead to greater fuel efficiency, therefore lower emissions, and reduced noise. The work is conducted under the Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project (ERA), which is a major initiative with an aim to introduce improvements in airplane design that lower emissions, reduce noise and cut down fuel usage.

The component, which is the main object, or rather objects, of interest in the Adaptive Compliant Training Edge Flight Experiment (ACTE) are the wing flaps. At NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, the engineering team is testing a new design of these flaps. The modification is done using FlexFoil, a special flexible geometry airfoil system, developed especially for this purpose by FlexSys, Inc., which closes the currently existing gap between the wings and the edges of the flaps.

The makers of this technology are convinced that the new wing flaps are not far from commercial manufacturing and applications. Of course, there are still quite a number of tests to be conducted before any definite conclusions can be made.

So far, all experiments have been conducted ‘indoors’ although various test settings should tell whether  the new design could be as efficient yet still safe in real-life conditions.

The project is jointly funded by NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Image (c) NASA

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