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New Flight Control System Increases Fuel Efficiency

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NASA F/A-18A Full Scale Advanced Systems TestbedEven if you can’t afford to purchase a fuel efficient vehicle, you can still maximize your fuel efficiency by driving intelligently. Avoiding overspeed, keeping your vehicle maintained, proper tire pressures, and use of accessories can all have a great influence on your final fuel economy.

As it turns out, the same can be said for aircraft. NASA’s Intelligent Control for Performance [ICP] project, has recently completed a series of test flights on the F/A-18 Full Scale Advanced Systems Testbed [FAST], testing a new flight control system for improved fuel economy at cruising speeds.

Utilizing thin-film sensors on one of the FAST’s wings, engineers are able to measure air flow over the surface of the wing in real time, something that isn’t easily achievable in a wind tunnel or in a simulation. Using this data and a new “peak-seeking” algorithm, flight control surfaces including ailerons, flaps, and rudder, are intelligently and precisely controlled to reduce drag in flight.

During flight, most of the fuel is burned while cruising, so optimizing drag at this point can help reduce fuel costs as well as emissions. The new sensors and algorithms can be adapted to any type of plane with computer controls, and requires no further aircraft modifications.

During testing on the otherwise unmodified FAST, researchers at NASA realized up to 5% increase in fuel efficiency at cruise with the new flight control system engaged. The new technology, in addition to increasing fuel economy, could also be employed to improve safety during turbulent conditions.

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