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Test flights are getting underway of a Boeing 757 with an actively blown vertical tail and new wing-leading-edge sections, which could pave the way for the wider use of natural laminar and active flow control technology in future airliner designs.
The aircraft, which first flew on March 17 from Boeing Field near Seattle, is the company’s third ecoDemonstrator technology testbed, following earlier campaigns with a 737-800 and 787-8. Supported by the European airline group TUI and conducted jointly with NASA as part of the agency’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) program, the testing will focus primarily on two methods of protecting wing leading edges from the laminar flow-destroying effect of residue left by insect strikes, as well as the performance of the active flow control (AFC) tail.
Increasing the use of natural laminar flow (NLF) on an aircraft wing has the potential to improve fuel burn by as much as 15%, while AFC technology could lead to a 17% reduction in tail size, which would reduce drag and weight, cutting as much as another 2% in fuel burn. Preserving NLF is difficult, however, as even small contaminants from insect remains will trip the flow from laminar to turbulent, destroying the performance benefit.