Morphing metals to be used in air force planes.
NASA announcement that its' scientists have developed an aircraft with the flight characteristics of a bird, complete with flapping wings. According
to NASA it will be able to unfurl its' wings on command and flex and react like a natural organism. The technology to be employed sounds like it is a
direct result of back-engineering alien space craft. The stunning features of what could be the ultimate result of the 'Aurora Project', inlcude:
'smart materials' with shape memory are being researched.
they can bend on command and feel pressure to mimic bird feathers
they can transform from a liquid to a solid when in a magnetic field.
metals on the plane could be shot through with bullets only for them to 'remember' their original shape and revert to it, instantaneously
'healing' its' wounds.
These studies and developments are being undertaken by a team specializing in Morphing Projects and in what seems like an extremely long time period,
the group see their project coming into reality in 20 years.
Artists impressions of Morphing Aircraft
During a NASA budget briefing April 9 2001, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin described the aircraft that will be one of the linchpins of the Agency's
aerospace research for the next 20 years.
Using computer animation that showed an eagle in flight and an aircraft that also used bird-like movements in the flexing and morphing of its wings
and other components, he explained how the new concept could work.
"NASA will open the door to a bold and revolutionary era by using technology to mimic nature. The seemingly effortless flight of birds provides the
inspiration for new aircraft utilizing wings that reconfigure in flight. The vehicle changes -- or morphs -- from a low-speed configuration to one
more suited for high speed," Goldin said.
Such a vehicle will be built of a wing construction that will employ fully integrated embedded "smart" materials and actuators that will empower the
wings with an unprecedented level of aero-dynamic efficiencies and aircraft control.
The NASA Administrator continued to describe the aircraft as the computer animation illustrated the concepts.
"The wings sweep back and change shape for high speed drag reduction and low sonic boom. The engine inlets and nozzles morph as well. Small jets of
air and feather-like control surfaces provide additional control forces for extreme maneuvers and added safety," he said.
This future aircraft will be able to respond to constantly varying conditions using its sensors as nerves in a bird's wing to measure pressure over
the entire surface of the wing. The response to these measurements will direct actuators, which will function like muscles in a bird's wing and
change shape to optimize conditions.
"To convert to the low-speed configuration, the wings unsweep and increase in thickness and span to improve efficiency," Goldin continued. "Instead
of a vertical tail, the vehicle uses thrust vectoring. Adaptable wings are envisioned to have controllable, bone-like support structures covered by a
flexible membrane with embedded muscle-like actuators. Embedded sensors provide health monitoring and control feedback."
As the vehicle morphs for landing, the wingtips split for tip vortex control and the wings lengthen for a shorter runway landing. A tail deploys
providing noise shielding, increased lift and additional control," Goldin concluded.
The details of the technologies required to achieve the vision he outlined and the division of work were not covered in the briefing. However, it is
expected to take about two decades to develop and capitalize on new breakthroughs in nano, bio and information technologies.
The technologies developed during the research of this new aerospace vehicle are potentially applicable to both civilian and military aircraft and are
expected to have a number of benefits. Some of the benefits include reduced noise, increased fuel efficiency, improved ride quality, increased safety,
better maneuverability, lower landing speeds, adaptation to shorter runways and extensive versatility.
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., will lead the effort and Dryden Center Director Kevin Petersen said it is likely that this Center will help
validate technologies in flight experiments leading to flight research of the new aircraft.
For example, one control surface experiment known as the Active Aeroelastic Wing is studying the twisting motions of the wing for aircraft control on
a dedicated F/A-18.
Dryden's past research on projects such as thrust vectoring, fully electronic actuators and smart controls are other potential areas where Dryden
research might be utilized for the envisioned future aircraft.