NASA's shape-shifting plane wings pass initial flight tests

After six months and 22 flights at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, NASA has announced the successful completion of testing for its morphing airplane wing design. Known as Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) flight control surfaces, they replace a plane's conventional, rigid flaps with a flexible composite material. Not only are they designed to significantly reduce an aircraft's weight (as well as the noise it generates during flight), these flaps could save the industry millions of dollars annually in fuel savings. In tests, the wing's curve remained set anywhere from -2 to 30 degrees but it can be adjusted as needed, even in midflight. Eventually, flexible wings can make for lighter, more fuel-efficient planes as well as quieter takeoffs and landings.

"The completion of this flight test campaign at Armstrong is a big step for NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project," said ERA project manager Fay Collier in a statement. "This is the first of eight large-scale integrated technology demonstrations ERA is finishing up this year that are designed to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment." The ACTE results are to be integrated into future design trade studies conducted by NASA's Langley Research Center.