Wing Technology: Back To The Future

Wing Technology: Back To The Future

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FlexSys has teamed up with Aviation Partners to bring morphing wing technology, first used by the Wright Brothers, back to business aviation. Better fuel consumption and less noise are just two of the benefits of this game-changing technology. P1 Magazine Reports.

It’s ironic that some of the best bits of shows like NBAA and EBACE tend to fly under the radar.

While heads are invariably turned by eye-catching stands the size of condos and sexy new aircraft out at the static display, it’s often the seemingly unassuming booths and geeky products that deserve our attention more.

Case in point was the low-key launch of a collaboration that commands column inches – a joining of forces between a true aviation champion and a relatively unknown challenger with a knockout punch up its sleeve.

In the red corner – Joe Clark, founder and CEO of Aviation Partners, Inc. In the blue corner – Sridhar Kota, founder and president of FlexSys. But rather than going toe-to-toe, Kota and Clark are combining their experience and expertise to launch Aviation Partners FlexSys (APF).

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Dr Sridhar Kota of FlexSys and Joe Clark of Aviation Partners

Here’s how it goes. FlexSys has a great idea, one that it has been working on since 2000. It’s a great concept that has been tried, tested and now needs taking to market. And that’s where Aviation Partners comes in.

ACTE Ground Unit Public Release 1

Aviation Partners should require little introduction. The company is the winglet technology pioneer based out of Seattle, Washington, with its patented design solution flying on more than 6,300 aircraft, saving more than 5.5 billion gallons of fuel. Those winglets have also reduced global CO2 emissions by the odd 60 million tons. When it comes to getting more (and less) out of your aircraft, Aviation partners are the guys to trust.

So then there’s FlexSys. Founded by Dr Kota back in 2000, the Michigan company is a world leader in shape adaptive structures. What that means, in this application at least, is that wings change shape – effectively incorporating flaps and other control devices within the wing structure itself.

If you are scratching your head, you’re not alone. At the launch announcement it was unclear to many how such a wing could operate, and how it would be structurally sound. Fair to say, the mechanism is fairly complicated, but it does utilise the natural flexibility of the materials to allow significant changes in profile – from -9 to +40 degrees.

FlexSys
FlexSys has undergone 15 years of intense research and development

This is what the press release says: “FlexFoil variable geometry surface mechanisms leverage the natural flexibility of aerospace-grade materials to continuously reshape the external form. The proprietary internal joint-less skeletal configuration of the system is optimised to achieve desired aerodynamic shapes on demand when actuated, while also meeting the aircraft design requirements of: strength, lightweight, high fatigue life, reliability and low maintenance.

“Importantly, the multifunctional seamless surface is uniquely capable of delivering desired camber change and span-wise twist at high rates for drag reduction, load alleviation, noise reduction, etc.”

Still with me? Good, then here are the headlines. For a clean sheet aircraft, FlexSys claim they can claw back a significant 12% in fuel efficiency. For a retrofitted aircraft, up to 8% savings. Back in Vegas, Joe Clark stated that NASA research had shown that noise could be reduced by a huge 40%.

“Replacing conventional multi-jointed flaps and other control surfaces with smooth seamless surfaces has been an elusive goal for the aerospace industry for decades. After 15 years of R&D, and successful flight-testing, the FlexFoil variable geometry control surface mechanism ushers in a new frontier in aircraft design,” said Kota.

It’s certainly an exciting prospect, and although the images may not do the tech justice, it’s all about the performance figures. In Clark and Aviation Partners, Kota and FlexSys have found allies that could see both companies enjoy considerable success.