With our product design, airfoils have come full circle.
The Wright brothers introduced heavier than air, man-powered flight with
and we hope to return such a mechanism to the world of aeronautics. The
Wright Flyer's wings were pine and spruce frames covered in canvas.
They were flexible enough to allow the brothers to warp the wing tips,
and thus, control the flight. The brothers used a system of cables and
pulleys to manipulate the wings. As wings evolved, they became made
primarily of rigid materials such as aluminum and steel. These wings
made of inflexible materials needed a new mechanism for control. Engineers
designed hinged flaps called ailerons that the pilot could move to control
flight as necessary. The movement of the flaps was achieved through a
system of hydraulics.
Our product brings us back to the Wright brothers
flexible, warpable wings. Although we do not utilize pulleys and cables,
our design for a new airfoil will allow the pilot to holistically change
the shape of the wing to control flight. Our research has shown us, however,
that our warpable airfoil design could have many other applications as well.
In the early 1900s, as with the Wright flyer, the entire airframe of the
airplane wings were covered in fabric, primarily canvas. As the capabilities
and performance of airplanes increased, the fabric no longer suited the airplane
design. Engineers replaced the canvas coverings with aluminum sheets, which we
still see on the majority of airplanes today. Our product proposes changing
materials once again. QUASAM, a material so new it is not yet on the market, has
a strength comparable to that of aluminum but has the advantage of being very
flexible. QUASAM is the covering, the "skin" of our airfoil. To cause
the wing to change shape mid flight, our product would use piezoelectric stack
actuators. These actuators move the QUASAM surface of the wing. QUASAM would
also provide the structural support for piezoelectric stack actuators
themselves. (Our product is described in greater detail in
and QUASAM's myriad of properties are described on the
materials background page.)
The Wright brothers initial vision is realized with our
product to such an extent the brothers never could have imagined. This highly
advanced control system will allow the wing to be the most aerodynamically
efficient shape it can be according to the conditions, speed, altitude, and
stage of flight. The advantages of this new airfoil are a major increase in fuel
economy, improved stability, and reduction of stress on the airplane and its
parts. Our project coincides with the philosophy of Ephrahim Garcia, the program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency: "If you can't morph a wing you really don't have a morphing aircraft."
The advantages are not, however, limited to airplanes and their
wings. This controllable airfoil would allow race care drivers to adjust
their spoilers without pulling in for a pit stop. It would prevent racing
boats from lifting off the surface of the water by allowing them to adjust the
airfoils on the nose of the boat. Our product would improve anything that
uses airfoils from propellers and helicopter blades to ceiling fans and the fan
cooling your computer as you read this.
The Wright Flyer
Aviation Week & Space Technology