NASA is developing a stiletto-like plane wing that's so long and thin that it needs a truss to hold it up. The longer, thinner, and lighter truss-braced wing, as it is called, is aimed at making future commercial transport aircraft more efficient and less polluting.
As aircraft become larger, they need larger wings to lift them. But providing enough surface area to create enough lift to get the plane off the ground also adds weight to the plane and more drag, which results in more fuel burned, more emissions, and higher operating costs. One way of getting around this is by making the wings longer and thinner, but this becomes a tradeoff as the wings start to bend down under their own weight, or bend up from lift forces.
Under development by NASA and Boeing engineers, the truss-braced wing allows for a more efficient allocation of wing surface while at the same time providing support. In its present iteration, it has a 50-percent longer wingspan than current designs on comparable aircraft. NASA says the combination of light weight and reduced drag means that an aircraft equipped with the wing should burn half the fuel and have half the carbon emissions of current transport aircraft designs, and outperform advanced unbraced wing designs by four to eight percent.
The truce-braced wing is undergoing wind tunnel tests at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. The results of these tests will be used with detailed computer models of air flow to tweak the design of the wing, the truss, and their dimensions with the wind tunnel tests providing real-world validation.
The truss-braced wing is part of NASA's Advanced Air Transport Technology project to produce more efficient and cleaner aviation technology and will be incorporated in the agency's proposed new tranche of X-Plane experimental technology demonstrator airplanes, similar to the ones that made so many American aviation breakthroughs from the 1940s onward.