Aircraft

Super-thin wing design cuts fuel costs in half

Super-thin wing design cuts fu...
Greg Gatlin, NASA aerospace research engineer, inspects the truss-braced wing during testing in the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel complex at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley
Greg Gatlin, NASA aerospace research engineer, inspects the truss-braced wing during testing in the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel complex at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley
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Greg Gatlin, NASA aerospace research engineer, inspects the truss-braced wing during testing in the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel complex at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley
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Greg Gatlin, NASA aerospace research engineer, inspects the truss-braced wing during testing in the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel complex at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley
Semi-span model for testing aerodynamics of the trussed-brace wing
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Semi-span model for testing aerodynamics of the trussed-brace wing

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.

Semi-span model for testing aerodynamics of the trussed-brace wing
Semi-span model for testing aerodynamics of the trussed-brace wing

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.

Source: NASA

11 comments
Mel Tisdale
Imagine hitting a particularly energetic thermal or downdraft, or even the wingtip vortex from a 'heavy' or 'super'!
Nik
Why not make two wings so that both brace each other, ie, like a biplane wing, but with the tips connected, they could then be shorter.
DomainRider
Wow, half the fuel and emissions makes it a no-brainer, but they may have to redesign airport taxiing and handling facilities if the wingspan is 50% bigger...
watersworm
Half the consumption ??? Hope so, but i am a little sceptical. Waiting for real life results.
Primecordial
Where is the fuel going to be stored?
Martin Hone
These so-called trusses are generally known as 'struts'. Most small, high wing light aircraft (think Cessna) have a strut braced wing rather than having to have a much stronger and heavier cantilever design. So nothing new here. And a very high aspect ratio wing is generally used for high altitude work, as in the U2 spy plane as well as in gliders.....
sagebrush6
An issue not addressed is airport parking. There already seems to be a shortage of parking on the tarmac now.
Timelord
Both NASA and Boing have been studying joined-wing aircraft for decades. Why are they stepping back from that in favor of this?
Lance
Sagebrush6, you are right, there are wingspan limits for aircraft terminals. They would need to fold the wings up to fit into them.