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Air Force to Test Aeroelastic Wings 168

Posted by michael
from the silly-putty dept.
firegate writes "The New Scientist is reporting that the US Air Force is planning to test a variant of the Wing Warping steering system used on the original Wright Brothers plane to steer new supersonic jets. They've invested $41 million in the project so far, and the first test flight will take place next month at NASA's Dryden research center in California."
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Air Force to Test Aeroelastic Wings

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  • "Aircraft will eventually sense their environment and morph their shape to perform optimally in many different flight conditions."

    Right... and didn't i see something about an invisiblity quote a little while back? Maybe they should integrate that in there too...

    • by spun (1352)
      Dont forget active camouflage. And it should be a modified harrier, so it has VTOL.

      Sounds like some Air Force boys have been reading cyberpunk novels.
    • I've worked it out.... USAF designers have been channeling 'Klunk' from the old Dastardly and Muttley cartoons! Just wait till you see his latest designs! One day the USAF will finally stop that pigeon..
  • Are they going to be using plywood and fabric too?
  • by Jade E. 2 (313290) <(ten.mrotslrep) (ta) (todhsals)> on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:22AM (#4309674) Homepage
    From the article:
    The technology will be tested at subsonic and supersonic speeds, though not in the unpredictable range close to the speed of sound.
    Now, I'm no aerospace engineer, but how exactly do you test at supersonic speeds without at least passing through the range of speeds 'close to the speed of sound'? Or, if the wing snaps in half as it passes mach 1, do they just say "Oops, that didn't count, better not tell anyone."?
    • Re:Test speeds. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ma$$acre (537893) on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:29AM (#4309699)
      INAE either, but "passing through" and "[testing] in" are two different things. Going through the sonic barrier and testing within it are two different things. Going through is stressful... testing on the edge of mach 1 introduces amazing stresses. Something that flexes a lot more than a standard wing could set up harmonic vibrations which would shatter the hardware. Passing through would actually stablize after the initial shockwave.
      • Nah. Its not that it is particularly stressful. It's just hard to get test data that is useful. Around Mach 1, things get *VERY* sensitive to tiny changes in flight condition - the difference between Mach 0.99 and 0.995 can be large, while the difference between 0.7 and 0.705 is unlikely to be measurable (assuming you are looking at the appropriately nondimensionalized data, which you do if you are an aero). It is difficult to keep an airplane at a precise transonic speed precisely enough to get good data. And repeatability is also a problem; if you try to get multiple maneuvers at the same condition (which you want to do), you'll have trouble matching flight conditions well enough for the purpose.

        I've seen tests of lots of things near Mach 1. Tends to be an awful lot of scatter in the data.
    • it seems to me that testing the wings at speeds "close to supersonice" would be necessary, since the plane would first have to get past that speed before it can go supersonic, right?

      what's the point of having a flexy-wing plane that can fly at supersonic speeds, but becomes unpredictable, or at worst uncontrollable at the speeds it has to pass through first before becoming supersonic?

      i'm guessing if they can't get the plane to fly properly at speeds close to the speed of sound, they can probably use this technique on surveillance planes which need to be able to loiter around in places longer, since the lighter weight would help with fuel efficiency.
      • what's the point of having a flexy-wing plane that can fly at supersonic speeds, but becomes unpredictable, or at worst uncontrollable at the speeds it has to pass through first before becoming supersonic?

        I would guess they have an actuation mechanism which makes the wing like a normal wing when active and softens it otherwise - so they can fly through the turbulence point

      • I believe the point is that they don't want to try wing manuverability near the Mach 1 threshold. Since it is, you know, flight worthy, i would assume that the wings are rigid enough to withstand the rigors of normal flight for military aircraft (or they wouldn't be testing it). So all it means is that they're flying in a straight line until they pass through Mach 1. Then they go back to seeing if the wings still work for manuverability.

        Though i would -really- hate to be the poor guy who has to check if the wings still work past mach 1.
    • I suppose you could test it in a wind tunnel so as to minimize the outside factors involved. But still, you can't go from 0 to > mach 1 without passing the area around mach 1...
    • Re:Test speeds. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nihilvt (212452) on Monday September 23, 2002 @09:15AM (#4310765)
      It's extremely hard to test at supersonic speeds because supersonic wind tunnels are designed for a specific mach number. The geometry of the wind tunnel must be changed if a new supersonic mach speed is desired. Most supersonic wind tunnels have multiple test sections, each designed for a specific speed. Because of the nature of supersonic flow, the wind tunnel geometry must be "right" at each supersonic speed in order to ensure wave-free, "clean flow". Otherwise, any data collected is useless. As for testing at a sonic speed (mach = 1), that is extremely hard. The *only* place in a wind tunnel where the mach number can be one is at the throat (in a converging/diverging nozzle). Note that adding heat will always drive flow towards mach 1 (regardless of supersonic or subsonic flow). The only way to accelerate flow once it has reached mach one in a wind tunnel is a cross secional area increase. Wind tunnels are not developed so that one could place a test piece at the throat of the tunnel (I've never heard of one that is.)
      • accelerate flow once it has reached mach one in a wind tunnel is a cross secional area increase
        So Bernoulli's law is exactly backwards?
        • by kaleth (66639)
          No. At subsonic speeds, the air flow around an airplane is considered to be incompressable (density is constant). Once you go supersonic, really weird stuff starts happening (like flows accelerating in a diverging nozzle) due to the fact that air then behaves as a compressible flow. Bernoulli's law is still valid at both points, we just don't usually think about the supersonic case.
    • Re:Test speeds. (Score:4, Informative)

      by n9hmg (548792) <`n9hmg' `at' `hotmail.com'> on Monday September 23, 2002 @10:03AM (#4311097) Homepage
      supersonic speeds without at least passing through
      You don't manoever while you're going trans-sonic. Generally, nobody does. The SR-71 climbs sonic, gets up to about mach 0.9, and power-dives in a straight line to about mach 1.1. It saves wear and tear on the airframe, AND it saves fuel. Supersonic fighter planes close and withdraw supersonic, do closing standoff attacks supersonic, but dogfight mostly subsonic.
      They're going to manoever subsonic, straighten the control surfaces to slash through trans-sonic, and manoever again supersonic. Oh, and don't worry about the pilots yet. This is all windtunnel stuff so far. The model won't actually be able to turn, climb, and dive. It will be in a balance, measuring forces on it as it does its manoevers. Probably just a plain wing to start, later something plane-shaped.
      Ever since I got to mess with the full-scale working model of the 1903 flyer at the Wilbur Wright birthplace in Millville, Indiana, I've thought that efficiency, especially in manoevering, would be enhanced by getting rid of transitions, if we could get sufficiently strong, rigid materials that wouldn't suffer from flexing.
      At the very start, they chose the optimal configuration. The bishop's boys still rule!
    • Transonic (Score:1, Offtopic)

      Somewhat off topic, and I ain't no aero engineer either :-)

      Transonic is the airspeed regime where parts of the airflow are supersonic and parts are subsonic. Subsonic, all airflow is subsonic; supersonic, it is all supersonic. Due to the shapes of wings, canopies, antennas, whatever, the airflow is not smooth, so for instance the airspeed over the top of the wing is faster than below the wing, and you can get supersonic above, subsonic below.

      Zipping thru keeps the stresses and turbulence to a minimum. Like going past Mount Rushmore without telling the kids in the backseat, as opposed to parking the car, getting everyone together, payng for tickets, keeping everybody together, waiting in line, ..... all of which is a quite severe test :-)
  • We've seen some amazing things due to the innovation of flight. Carbon Fiber, Titanium, Many plastics, even the IC on Silicon. The list could go on for quite a while... if you took NASA and the Air Force out of the material science loop, we'd be living in an entirely different world.

    Look for this idea to spawn a host of new things from more complex fly-by-wire systems and innovative materials development and use.
  • by TR6 (577489)
    interesting that they are using technology that was invented in the beginning of the science of flight. kinda makes me wonder what else is coming out of the older technologies
  • Air Force Times (Score:4, Interesting)

    by batboy78 (255178) on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:23AM (#4309681) Homepage
    I think I actually read something about this in the Air Force Times (you can pick one up on most military bases). There is usually so much propoganda in there that its nothing but slop but sometimes they have something interesting. This is one of the reasons I got out of the AF, they spend all their money on R&D instead of paying the troops what they deserve to get paid.

    There are Airmen (E4 and below) that make almost nothing and are in charge of thousand user networks, or several million LOC systems. It drives me crazy.
    • Read my mind - I'm E-3 atm. In charge of about 1,500 workstations/servers as well. No BS here, the AF does spend quite a bit of dough on R&D instead of paying their (well, enlisted) people.
    • Re:Air Force Times (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kryonD (163018) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:21AM (#4310050) Homepage Journal
      Sorry to pop your bubble, but E-1 to E-4 pay ranges from $1022.70 to $1752.30 per month depending on time in service (dfas.mil [dfas.mil]). This is on top of the fact that all your food, housing, electricity, water, trash, medical, dental, and training are provided to you free of charge. In other words, the only financial obligations you have are the ones you create yourself. Even if you take a loan out on a car($300/mo. + $100/mo. for expensive insurance + $50/mo. for gas/upkeep), get a cell phone ($50/mo with a ton of minutes), and get cable plus wide-band access (up to $100/mo) that still leaves over $400 pure spending cash for even a boot E-1. Average promotion times are 6 mo. to E-2, 8 more mo. to E-3 and an average of 18 months for E-4 depending on how good of a worker you are. Most folks straight out of high school with little to no work experience usually don't have it nearly that good. Also, starting Oct 1st, the Military pays 100% tuition assistance for undergrad education, so free college to boot!

      Now, that being said, the military is still a tad behind the civilian world in overall fiscal compensation. But it's a bit too far to say that enlisted make "almost nothing". As far as the IT field goes, most military people suck up the free training and bail after the 4 year stint for better paying jobs. This rapid attrition rate allows those that stay in to reach the ranks of E-5 and E-6 faster. Benefits begin to increase in the form of priviledges which makes staying in just about as worth while as getting out.

      FYI, the daily unclassified, non-critical networks that the E-1 through E-4's usually administer have terrible up-time rates and is usually directly attributed to the lack of experience and education. Most of these self-proclaimed IT wizards couldn't manage a Nintendo without their roomate's assistance.

      Before the blasting starts, I enlisted 9 years ago and have worked my way to the officer ranks. I think I made plenty of money then and make plenty of money now with the increase in pay directly related to the increase in my education level and responsibilities.
      • I believe the original poster's complaints annoyed me a little as well.

        Complaining about the AF and its fiscal policies will do him no good. The Air Force doesn't choose how much an officer or enlisted member is paid, the Department of Defense does! Any one even remotely connected with the military should have at least a passing knowledge of this. In order to divert more money to R&D, the Air Force will release people, as wages are perfectly inelastic.

        This is all despite the fact that an E-1 in the Air Force is treated completely different than an E-1 in any other service.

        As an E-1 in the Air Force, you will generally have your own room and share a bathroom with one other enlisted fellow. Compare this to the Army and Marines, where there is a good chance you will be stuck in an open bay with 100 other folks. And you can be sure there will probably be at least one officer sleeping near-by.

        If the original poster did not like the military and wanted to get out, he should have said so.

        But to complain that the "Air Force spends more on R&D at the expense of its people," I question greatly whether he even paid a little bit of attention to his pay when he was in the Air Force.
      • No offense sir, but that isn't necisarily the case. At our base, the Airman have a much greater idea of what they are doing then their NCO's. The NCO's are the "self-proclaimed IT wizards" that you speak of, not the Airmen. Network policies tend to be dictated to you by those above, and is rarely the decision of the expert. Another issue is PCSing. (For non-military, that meas "Permanent Change of Station", i.e. trasfered to a different base). With people being constantly shifted arround, they don't always have time to get used to a new network topography, practices, etc. Now I will grant you that training for the operators is lackluster at best, but let's put the blame for that were it belongs, on the system and those who came up with the training curiculum. If anything you should pitty those poor Airmen that go through inadaquite training, just to be thrown into the fire, then get yelled at for being burned.

        I don't care what your rank is, you should be able to swallow your pride and listen to people who know more about a subject than you. I might write a little code, but I'll ask someone who knows the language or libraries better than I if I get stuck. My co-workers may not know as much as I do about *nix systems, so they will ask me, but our shop is abnormal by military standards.

        Yeah, and the pay could be better. It might be adiquite for the 18 year old highschool kids, but for those of us who enlisted later in life and have other debts that tend to drain a bank account rather quickly. For example, I am an E2 with all those other expenses while paying off 2 college loans (about $200 a month), have alotments for the GI Bill and SGLI (life insureance for those who don't know), which take $120 a month of my pay, taxes(about $75/mo), other costs such as drycleaning for my uniforms, soap, toilette paper, all of which in total are a good $50 a month. I also try to save some money every month so I might be able to fly out and see family over the holidays. I don't have to pay for my car, but i am paying $125/mo for full coverage insurance. Each month I end up with between $20-50 a week i can spend. That goes pretty quickly if you think about it. If I take someone to a movie, that's pretty much all my spending money for that week. God forbid I take someone out to eat once in a while instead of eating chowhall food!

      • Well acording to DFAS [dfas.mil] the payrate of an E2 is about 1200 a month which comes out to a little over 7 dollars an hour. In my opinion thats still not very much money, even when you may live on base, but you still have to pay your phone bill, almost all units make you have a phone in case of recalls. What about a car, you supervisor won't come and get you every morning, what about high insurance rates, I know when I was an airmen living in Colorado (one of the highest states for auto insurace) I was broke all the time. We are not talking about a lot of money. Other branches offer other benefits like paying off student loans, and things of that nature.

        There has been talk for years about adjusting pay scales according to what your designation is, but it will never happen, cause how much are you going to pay the guys that actually go out and risk their lives in the field, should they get more then the programmer in his climate controlled server room? One poster explained how he went on to become an officer, and make more money. Yes the military pays 75% of your tuition, but it doesn't cover books or lab fees, that alone gets very expensive, and tough to handle on an airmens pay. Why would someone want to stay in for crappy pay, living in a 8X12 closet with a roomate who sheds like sasquatch, when they can go out and get a job at Mcdonalds, thats 9-5, no recalls, and offers almost the same benefits (ie. TA, insurance).

      • Hmmmm,

        Gotta take issue with your income statement here... Unless the military has changed since I was enlisted, the only place you can get your own broadband is within your own housing so you would have to pay for electricity/housing/food etc... and most recruits tend towards the lower end of the pay scale rather than the upper..

        The original poster is of course being absurb... since the research budget has nothing to do with pay and income... Actually the DOD makes recommendations, but I believe it's congress that sets actual pay rates... Various departments can issue COLA adjustments which can be 2x or more base pay.
        • I do believe everyting is in the Defense Spending Plan that comes down every year, and that includes Military pay, Weapons, R&D, and things of that nature.
          • Unfortunately you are wrong... Congress sets what people are paid depending on their work level, in the millitar thats E1-e9 and O1-O13?

            It makes no difference what the actual military budget is... Ie if there is less money, they won't accept as many new recruits and will open fewer positions in the Officer side of the house... Officers if they are not promoted withing 3-4 tries of when they are eligible for promotion are discharged from service...

            If there is a surplus, ie more funding, then they will hire more people, but pay and benefits don't improve.

            The fact of the matter is that congress does not work by the accounting that the rest of the country is forced to. IE, it doesn't matter what the income is from taxes, they can spend as much or as little as they want... This was the point behind the no deficit bill passed a couple of years ago... To actually make congress and the president responsible for not overspending their income.

            Pay for military personal comes out of a different fund than weapons, R&D etc. If you need I can probably look up the exact rules that govern military pay, but they should be online for you to look up as well... Let me know if you can't find anything with a google search and I will look it up.

        • Unless the military has changed since I was enlisted, the only place you can get your own broadband is within your own housing

          I'm not sure I fully understand, but where I was stationed, airmen had access to cable internet in the dorms (not free, of course) and the comm squadron on base was working with the phone company to get the phone lines to base housing DSL-ready.

          I separated three days ago. :) But now have to get used to dialup again. :/

      • I officially separated from the Air Force 3 days ago. (I definitely do not regret my time in the service, but it is a bit disheartening to think that I could have already been out of college by now.) College money was my main motivation for joining, and going to college was my main motivation for separating.

        Now, that being said, the military is still a tad behind the civilian world in overall fiscal compensation. But it's a bit too far to say that enlisted make "almost nothing".

        In my opinion, airmen (E1-E4) make more than they probably should. Likewise, it seems to me that the higher ranks (not to include officers) don't get paid quite enough. I mean, Airman Basic Joe Schmedlap joins up, gets all of the necessities issued to him by Uncle Sam, lives in his own dorm room, and still can manage to afford 2003 Mitsubishi UltimaSuperDuperCar with quad 30" subwoofers. However, I know of several outstanding Master Sergeants who, because they have a family, have to budget pretty tightly just to make ends meet. I can't magically write the future, but I hope that with 16 years of experience under my belt, I'll be doing a bit better than that.

        FYI, the daily unclassified, non-critical networks that the E-1 through E-4's usually administer have terrible up-time rates and is usually directly attributed to the lack of experience and education. Most of these self-proclaimed IT wizards couldn't manage a Nintendo without their roomate's assistance.

        Well, network stability would probably also be a bit better if the Air Force's lips weren't glued to the ass of Microsoft. On the base I was stationed at, the networks are run almost entirely by (MSCE-certified) civilians who are little better than the Airmen who are trained specifically for computer networking. Seriously, everytime one part of the network was slow, the solution was to buy faster hardware to replace it, nevermind looking for bottlenecks or inadequate software. Airmen have such mundane jobs as adding/deleting user accounts and sending out the occasional commander's call notice. They get little training and are never EVER put in any kind of position that would actually challenge them. I love computers more than anything else, but there isn't enough money in the world that would convince me to manage the Air Force's computers.

    • I think I actually read something about this in the Air Force Times (you can pick one up on most military bases). There is usually so much propoganda in there that its nothing but slop but sometimes they have something interesting.

      Erm, sure you aren't thinking of Airman magazine? AF Times is the *only* publication I've ever seen that prints even halfway negative content on the AF. Of course a good deal of it is tabloid-type stuff also.
  • by prisen (578061) on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:23AM (#4309682)
    I'm a USAF member, and at the office lately we've been tossing around this interesting subject. Honestly, the article presented in the story was pretty lame; here's a few good links we've come up with, if you want to know a bit more about the technology:

    NASA Press Release [nasa.gov]
    Air Force Research Laboratory brief [afrlhorizons.com]
    AAW photo collection (NASA) [nasa.gov]
    • "Active aeroelastic wing (AAW) technology is a multidisciplinary, synergistic technology that integrates air vehicle aerodynamics, active controls, and structures to maximize air vehicle performance."

      Wow, I can hardly count the number of technobabbling, get-the-investors-drooling phrases in that sentance.
  • So they are suggesting they are going to be combining this technology with AI or are they developing their own type of AI. THIS is was could lead to Terminator 2 and Matrix-type scenarios. Instead of the wing "morphing" this plane "talks" to other planes and reconfigures its flight path to something a bit more to its liking.

    And, hell, throw a couple 18g inversions in there for fun.

    This is where it gets interesting...
  • wing warping... (Score:5, Informative)

    by tanveer1979 (530624) on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:27AM (#4309694) Homepage Journal
    There is a very intersting applet [nasa.gov] about wing warping on NASA site.

    Actually wing warping was discontinued due to the fact that as modern airplanes became bigger and heavier rigid Duralium(Aluminium+Copper) and steel was used, which was not very conductive to bending, But I guess with carbon fibre based materials that will change.

    Wing warping gives a large degree of control. It is Demostrated very well in the java applet which shows the lift, the forces, the mechanics and the attitude on a model plane(like the one used by wright brothers).
    • Re:wing warping... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Eightlines (536572)
      Actually this technology hasn't been retired since the Wright Brothers flew their airplane, we've been using it for years in kite flying.

      This [revkites.com] is a good example of wing warping on a quad line kite. Essentially all you're doing in modifying the wing shape to grab or drop the airflow, in doing so you can manuevre it forwards, backwards, and in circles. Parafoils, Dual lines, even Fighter kites all use this method to keep them in the sky.

      Now is it just me or does the plane featured in the article look like it just has bigger ailerons? I want to see the actual wings twist via some internal mechanism, thereby leaving no gaps in the wing surface. You'd figure this would allow higher speeds as there would be less drag.

  • good sign (Score:2, Funny)

    by Pretzalzz (577309)
    This is a good sign. We were sorely technologically overmatched in the war in Afghanistan so it is good to see that we will be spending a couple of trillion more dollars improving our weaponry.
    • The good thing about this is that a lot of useful technologies do spring from military use, however. So eventually if the military blasts out the cash in prototype and production models, this might work its way into improved civilian aircraft.

      Jet engines probably wouldn't have come out until much later if not for WW1 and WW2 (notable WW2). I think the internet started in military practive as well (ARPAnet?).

      So we have the military to thank for slashdot? hmmm - phorm
  • Maybe I'm just dense, but I don't think the article specified exactly how the wings would be bent. What will be used to warp the surfaces -- hydraulics? Changes in airflow? Electrical actuators? "Fly by wire" seems a bit too broad :)
    • Wow, I'm in a bad mood tonight. The poster posted:
      ...I don't think the article specified exactly how the wings would be bent. What will be used to warp the surfaces...
      You obviously didn't see the pictures someone else posted. It uses a a pair of hydraulic cylinders attached to the ground [nasa.gov], of course.

      Actually (speaking with no knowledge of what I'm talking about) it seems like all you'd need would be front and back hardened rods the length of the wing that were only attached at 2 points - the [electric/mechanical] actuator inside, and a hardpoint on the twisty end...

    • It sounded to me like it was changes in airflow brought on by a modified control surface. Rather than seeking to deflect enough air directly to alter flight characteristics, the control surfaces would deflect enough air to bend the wing, which would then deflect even more air, and alter flight characteristics more efficiently.

      I doubt they will be using the Wright brother method of having the pilot swing back and forth to bend the wings, though it does conjure up amusing images of combat pilots dangling beneath their supersonic planes.
    • Why they're modifying the structural integrity field and inertial dampeners, of course.
  • by serps (517783)
    Okay, now that we have the ornithopters, bring on the cute fremchicks!
  • by tdsotf (316796) on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:34AM (#4309709)
    So does this mean the (long dead) Wright Bros get royalties on their wing-warping patent?
    I guess it took us a hundred years to figure out they were right all along :-)
  • by DaedalusLogic (449896) on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:37AM (#4309719)

    We are a little over a year away from the centennial of powered flight. The Wrights made their first successful powered flight on December 17th of 1903. The first run was something around 12 seconds... Later in the day they recorded durations of just short of 1 minute. The wing warping technique was used to control the roll of the airplane. The Europeans later developed the control surfaces known as ailerons to get around patents that the Wright Brothers had made on their wing warping technique. Ailerons eventually became the method of choice for future development for many engineering reasons.


    An article on this matter was published and graces the cover of the September 2002 Aerospace America magazine. The plane this system is being tested on if not intended for is the F-18, the writer of the article was J.R. Wilson. Aerospace America page at AIAA.org [aiaa.org]

    • I s'pose you could say Orville was wright all along, then...
    • Well, I would say Richard Pearse [monash.edu.au] bet the Wright brothers to it, but there is insufficient evidence to sway an American from the view point.

      What I can tell you though is that the europeans did NOT develop ailerons, that was Richard Pearse [monash.edu.au] in a small farming community of New Zealand, Waitohi.

    • So what you are saying is that superior technology was ditched because of patent/legal issues? Wow. That's a first...
    • Actually, the first powered, heavier-than-air flight occured way before 1903. It was achieved by Clément Ader, a wealthy French electrical engineer, who made the first piloted powered takeoff in history, at Armainvilliers, France, in October 1890. He was piloting the Eole, a bat-winged, steam-powered aircraft (with a 10-HP steam engine!). Although he covered a distance of only 165 ft (50 meters), this was enough for the French Army to encourage further experiments and fund Ader's work.

      The French Army, not famed for its farsightedness and its vision, threatened to rip apart the fabric of reality by taking a bold, inspired bet on an unproven concept! But read on.

      The distance of the first flight wasn't much, but compare to Wright's 12 seconds in the air. Clément Ader's mistake was to take off in the same direction as the wind instead of against it. Nevertheless, Ader persevered.

      Ader build several new aircrafts. He claims that he achieved a successful, straight line flight on the Avion III prototype in 1897, a machine still lacking controllability. However, the French Army, its sponsor, wanted a fully maneuverable craft able to transport troops and bombds right away. The Army lost patience and cut Ader's funding. The temporary threat to the natural order of the universe was quashed, and equilibrium was restored. Whew.

      You can read more on Clément Ader here [aviationboom.com]. Technical specs of Ader's machines can be found here [att.net]. Engineering students of Ecole Centrale de Paris constructed a scale model of the Eole that was able to fly [www.aopa.ch].

      -- SysKoll
  • The Simpsons (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:37AM (#4309721)
    The first thing that came to my mind upon reading the post was the Simpsons episode where Lisa's future is foretold. In a sci-fi setting an old Wright Brothers type plane flies by and Lisa's boyfriend says: "I'm so glad they re-evaluated those old designs" anyone remember that one :)
  • and that means that they can choose to keep it "straight" or more like a traditional wing during straight and level flight as the aircraft accelerates through Mach 1.

    They do this simply by controlling the deformation and setting it to the rest state of the surface...since this is a prototype of a very new technology it is fair to assume that aside from deforming the wing for control the actual shape of the wing is very traditional, as are its construction techniques.

    This should give a reasonably predictable set of behaviors at transition.

    Then again, IANAAE. I should perhaps be heeding my sig.

  • Mission adaptable wings are not really that new. I was ooooohing and aaaaaaaaaaahing about ten years ago about the ones they were testing on an F-111.

    I think it was on the AFTI F-111...

  • Will it be jumpable?
  • Dale Brown has just been named head of R&D at Dreamland.
  • There is a small passage in William Gibson's "Count Zero", where a jump jet is used in a getaway. The smart aircraft changes its shape for optimal flight...
  • Why stop with the Wright Brothers? Why not take a bigger step back and design aircraft like birds? They have bendable wings too! Screw animalisitc decals, i'm talking glue and feathers man.

    Once this gets into mass production, instead of our enemies looking up and seeing a decked out f-16 with all the trimmings and sophisticated bomb technology, they'll just think it's a overgrown hawk with explosive diarrhea.

    How's that for covert!

  • it was a kiwi who flew first :)
  • by Guppy (12314) on Monday September 23, 2002 @02:10AM (#4309818)
    In the Anime OAV Macross Plus, the General Galaxy YF-21 [geocities.com] Prototype piloted by Guld Bowman used a variable wing geometry as part of it's design, a feature also incorporated in the production VF-22 Sturmvogel [geocities.com] appearing in Macross 7. Of course, the mechanism is different in that (besides being fictional), a shape-memory alloy was used to allow the wing to change shape.

  • by mike3411 (558976) on Monday September 23, 2002 @02:20AM (#4309840) Homepage
    Advances in maneuverability are great, but pilots are, and have been for some time, the limiting factor. The current generation of fighter jets can produce G forces that greatly exceed what even well-trained humans can endure. I think the next major advance will be fully remote fighter jets. If the military had some sense they'd be using cameras on the jets and some kind of vr for the pilots. Voila, war is video games, and all of a sudden I'm an elite fighter pilot!
    And my millions of hours logged in Counter-Stike are merely preparation for remote-controlled human-like spec ops. Yeah....
    • Remote controlled fighter aircraft? How easy is it to jam a radio? Line of sight communications would be too short range. And what about mountainous areas where the signal can suddenly interfere or go to zero?

      You'll have to control your aircraft from above using satellites. And before long countries like India and Pakistan should have the technology to deliver the EMP bombs that will knock them out.

      • How about short range radio supplemented by LOS communication via smaller, guided-missle style craft, which communally are capable of providing constant (encrypted) communication. I suppose, however, EMP would be an issue, but would they be in any worse shape than current fighter jets, whose control system is entirely electronic?
    • It is very true that pilots are the limiting factor in maneuverability. I did notice that the article seemed to stress the benefits of weight reduction allowing a greater payload as apposed to soley speaking on maneuverability benefits.
    • Uhm...you haven't been following aerospace technology recently, have you? They already have Predators (UAV used for recon) fitted with missiles. Used 'em in Yougoslavia for the first time, IIRC.
    • I think the next major advance will be fully remote fighter jets.

      You mean Like This [washingtontechnology.com]?
  • by NathanielSamson (610709) on Monday September 23, 2002 @02:39AM (#4309885)
    I remember a few years ago seeing in Janes Defense Weekly and other publications about a F-111 testbed vehicle in which the forward edge was replaced with similar techology. While this experiment did not include the entire wing the technologies developed were a definite precursor to the technology presented in the artical. If anyone else remebers this plane please reply, it is possible I have the aircraft type wrong. In an end note I have to say very cool reapplication of sound technology. Who owns the right to the Wright Brothers IP, I see a juicy lawsuit coming. He He He
  • "What is an autoerotic wing, anyway?"
  • by Chris Johnson (580) on Monday September 23, 2002 @02:58AM (#4309919) Homepage Journal
    Aeroelastic is old. That's the way 747 wings were built, and 707s, the entire pedigree of Boeing swept-wing jets have aeroelastic wings. They use the podded engines to direct the bends of the wing so that they are bending in useful ways. Non-useful ways would include flutter and pitching up in a stall.

    What's being talked about here is DIRECTED aeroelastic wings, even more elastic than the Boeing jets. Sounds like a neat idea :) sure as hell would result in control surface effectiveness! Not only no control surface gaps, but the whole damn wing's a control surface. In addition, this could also trim the wings to act as flaps, changing wing incidence on the fly.

    • Not strictly true.

      What we have here is you not really understanding material science: everything bends when it's put under stress.
      What you're talking about is just using the structural shape to minimize the stresses. Same thing happens in any structure (at least, if you're an engineer, which I am). You compute the forces, then the stresses and then devise ways of minimising them. That's not aeroelasticity, that's just elasticity, something you takee into account in any calculation.

      Second bit of your statement is true.
      • by Chris Johnson (580) on Monday September 23, 2002 @05:35AM (#4310171) Homepage Journal
        "Out of this arbitrary arrangement, all stemming from the military client's refusal to have the engines in the body, the designers, groping for a formula that would reconcile structural integrity with aerodynamic balance, made their own luck. The first step was unorthodox. Instead of proposing a rigid wing, the structures men outlined a wing that would be unusually flexible, designed to bend with the aerodynamic stresses as it carried the loads of the underslung engines. This was called an 'aeroelastic' wing, an image that was, if anything, an understatement." -history of the design of the B-47 as reported in Clive Irving's "Wide-Body: The Making Of The Boeing 747

        Sorry- I've lost patience with slashdotter smackdowns that have no justification. Dunno who you are, or whether you were having a bad day or what- points for not being an anonymous coward, anyway- but aeroelasticity dates back to the first jet bomber, the B-47, pattern for the later Boeing jet airliners, and it is precisely the word they used. No, I didn't design it: yes, I figured out that everything bends under stress and has elasticity many years ago, thank you.

        Geez. Must be something in the water making Slashdotters cranky. Even I'm kinda cranky :D

  • by foniksonik (573572) on Monday September 23, 2002 @04:09AM (#4310038) Homepage Journal
    Well all the birds and insects will be glad to hear that we superior humans have finally decided to get with the program and utilize controllable surfaces to improve our aerodynamics(think feathers and flexible wings)... now if we could only talk to the hummingbird and bumblebee [bbc.co.uk] specialists out there to begin using micro-turbulence effects to our advantage as well... hmmmm, interesting.

  • Active aerodynamic surfaces have long seemed to me to be the next big leap in aero technology, nice to see something publicly available -- most of the research into it is too classified to find much out about.
  • NASA was doing this in the 1980's with the AFTI F-111. They called it the MAW (mission adaptive wing). More info here http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/DTRS/1992/PDF/H-1855.pdf and pics here http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/gallery/photo/F-111AFTI/H TML/EC86-33385-002.html
  • They've invested $41 million in the project so far

    It probably cost the Wright brothers about twenty bucks.

  • So, we've already got a 'tail-less' airplane, now we want to make one without ailerons or flaps as well? With vectored thrust, isn't a matter of time before we have a wingless, tailless, control-surface-less airplane that can also hover?

    Or, is that what they are tesing at area 51? (start humming the X-files theme for more mood)...

    And for those of you who are asking about the Wright bros. patent, the government can ignore patent any time they want, just ask the family of Robert Goddard.

  • If I were cynical I'd say the defense contractors came up with the fancy new name "aeroelastic" for technology that's been around since the beginning of heavier-than-air flight because you can't go to the Air Force and say, "Please give me a billion dollars to play with wing-warping".
  • Can anyone comment on whether this would reduce or increase the number of moving parts? It seems like this could possible increase reliability as well as the other manifest benefits.
  • I fly R/C models, and so does the USAF. As a matter of fact many of their prototypes are built as radio controlled models and kinks ironed out (pun intended) before the full-size version is built.

    I'm excited about the prospect of seeing a modern style (we already have Kitthawk-style) model designed with wing warping.

    Vortan out
  • Dryden Home page (Score:2, Informative)

    by NoWhereMan (3539)
    The Dryden home page [nasa.gov] highlights this project. My last contract position was out there. Aside from some management issues (typical incompetent PHBs), there are a lot of smart engineers solving difficult problems there. It has been previously described as a geek playground. I still rank it as the best environment I ever worked in although the culture is slowly changing :(
  • I worked on a similar project for Boeing back in the mid-1980's. It was a small R&D project for the Air Force modifing a F-111 with a Mission Adaptive Wing. There were hydrolics inside the wing that would warp it into various shapes depending on mission. In attack mode the wing would flatten out for performance. For cruising it would get more camber for efficient lift.

    It was controlled by an Z-80 microprocessor programmed entirely in assembly language. I left the project before first flight. Hope we didn't kill anybody with a misplaced LDIR

  • everything old is new again?
  • "New from Tampax: Aeroelastic Wings. Now you can go horseback riding with your legs beh..." Err, okay I grossed myself out.

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