When you team up the brains at MIT with the brains of NASA, you’re going to get some pretty innovative ideas. This time, they came up with a new kind of airplane wing that could not only improve energy efficiency, but also allow greater flexibility in designing and manufacturing aircraft.
The new wing is composed of hundreds of identical pieces. These tiny pieces can change shape mid-flight to control how the plan responds. Rather than using separate movable surfaces, as in the case of ailerons that control the roll and pitch of the plane, this new approach allows the wing to deform to meet the needs, from takeoff and landing to cruising and maneuvring.
This flexibility is accomplished through subassemblies that are bolted together, forming an open, lightweight lattice framework. The framework not only allows for the wing to change shape, it’s also much lighter, and thus much more energy efficient.
This advance could change how airplanes look. Current design for airplanes is dictated by cost, not efficiency. A better model would be an integrated body and wing, rather than a tube with wings. The new wing made by MIT and NASA could make it more cost effective to adopt this more efficient design.
It’s not just flight that this design could work for. Other structures, like wind turbines, could benefit from this advance.