The wings of these new planes can basically move into any required position, without the need for a hydraulic system. Traditional hydraulics are very heavy, and so increase the overall weight of a plane, slowing down flight speeds and increasing fuel consumption. It is thought that the benefits will be greatest in supersonic planes, but that all planes could ultimately benefit from these new technologies.
The Benefits of Folding Wing Planes
Better Fuel Economy
Planes with folding wings are lighter, so they use less fuel. This is great news for the aviation industry. It will lower their costs, but eventually, their savings could be reflected in lower tickets prices for passengers, which of course is always welcome!
The folding wings allow the pilots to adapt the wings to particular flight conditions with ease. As we’ve also mentioned, they are lighter than traditional planes. These two aspects mean that these planes can fly faster than the planes currently in use, resulting in shorter journey times.
Extra benefits for supersonic flights
For supersonic flights, there are some truly amazing benefits. Drag is reduced as the wing tips can be folded downward during supersonic flight. It is thought that the transition between subsonic and supersonic speeds will also be improved.
What’s the secret behind these folding wings?
The technology behind the folding wings is pretty space age. They use a material called shape memory alloy. This makes the tubes in the actuators in the wings twist when they are heated, giving a massive 70 degrees of movement both upward and downward.
What is the next step for NASA’s development?
At the moment, NASA have enabled the wings to turn either upward or downward within a single flight. The plan is to keep on with the development and improve upon it, so the wings can be changed from an upward fold to a downward fold, and vice versa, mid-flight. More test flights have been scheduled for this summer. While it might be a while before these new innovations are implemented on standard commercial flights, it’s certainly an exciting prospect and something to look out for later in the year.
Emily is an avid writer with a passion for the travel industry. She also loves learning and writing about nutrition and healthy living. Emily is based in the UK.