Project insight Hungary: Elastic aircraft wings

Editor: Theresa Knell

An international project called FLiPASED (FLight Phase Adaptive Aero-Servo-Elastic aircraft Design) is being launched to revolutionize aircraft wings, as well as to develop and test so-called active controlled wing design.

Air Traffic Control and Navigation Research Team at the Institute for Computer Science and Control (SZTAKI).
Air Traffic Control and Navigation Research Team at the Institute for Computer Science and Control (SZTAKI).

The project is headed by Bálint Vanek, leader of the Air Traffic Control and Navigation Research Team at the Institute for Computer Science and Control (SZTAKI). In addition to coordination, SZTAKI is also responsible for control theory and aircraft design, as well as for tighter integration between the physical aircraft design and on-board control algorithms.

Technical details

The technology used for designing the wings and engines of modern aircraft has today reached the peak of its efficiency. Over 50 percent of the Boeing 787’s and Airbus A350’s mass is made up of composite materials. At the same time, commercial airlines spend more than 25 percent of their operating costs on fuel. Consequently, fuel efficiency is an important question for the purpose of both the environment and finances.

Aircraft requires an appropriate mix of drag and lift to manage various flight conditions. Aircraft producers aim to decrease drag in order to save fuel. This is achieved by composite wings that are extremely lean and increasingly tend to deform elastically. However, aircraft wings were designed to minimize drag in the case of a very specific flight configuration, which is determined by the weight, speed, altitude, and distance of the craft. When these conditions change, a subtle shift is needed in aerodynamic surfaces in order to change the ratio of lift and drag. However, this change can only be achieved in a relatively drastic manner using flaps and rudders.

As opposed to former solutions, the shape of actively controlled elastic wings can be fine tuned in order to adapt to a multitude of flight conditions. Airlines aim to take the shortest route possible from origin to destination and would frequently also fly through turbulent weather conditions — the number of which happens to increase as a result of climate change. Turbulence also has a more drastic impact on passengers in craft with rigid wings, while the methods developed as part of the project ensure that the combination of an elastic wing and active control together decrease the physical strain on passengers and craft alike. The wing shape can also be reconfigured for take-off and landing so as to make the final result as pleasant and efficient as possible.

Based on the result of research conducted so far, the impact of gusts can be decreased by 20 percent with active wings. In addition, 10 percent of fuel can be saved due to the wing shape changing continuously during the trip, which in turn decreases drag.

More than 500 parameters are measured two hundred times each second by experts on the test aircraft used for the project. This generates a huge amount of data, up to 1.5 GB of raw data per hour. The SZTAKI IT laboratory also participates in the project: data can for example be processed to fine tune the optimal wing shape setting of craft, as the optimal shape is different for each craft, and also varies as the materials used in the given craft age.

The goal is to make use of the results of the research to be completed by the end of 2022 within 5 to 10 years in practice. This is why the project’s consultant team includes industrial partners such as Airbus Operations SAS, the world’s leading passenger aircraft company, Airbus Defence and Space, responsible for military and space flight, and Dassault Aviation, dedicated to business jets and autonomous drones. In addition to simulation, the project results will also be demonstrated using an unmanned craft with a wing span of 7 meters and built for research.

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