Aviation Partners FlexSys (APF) has been holding discussions with four business aircraft manufacturers on possibilities to bring its FlexFoil wing morphing technology to market.
Winglet specialist Aviation Partners (API, Booth Y40) joined forces with Ann Arbor, Michigan-based FlexSys in late 2015 to bring to market the FlexFoil technology that has been in the works for nearly 17 years, and FlexSys has validated the concepts in NASA testing on a Gulfstream III.
The patented technology involves variable-geometry control surface mechanisms that use the natural flexibility of aerospace materials to continuously reshape. The technology provides seamless continuous surfaces that can morph from -9 degrees to 40 degrees.
Research is leading to clean, unbroken flight surfaces—wings and stabilizers—that can change shape in ways that designers seek for maximum efficiency and performance. This should be far more efficient than changing the wing’s shape with mechanical hinge- and track-mounted devices, such as ailerons, elevators and flaps, with all their added weight and complexity, APF maintains.
“It is really cool to see this wing—without any lines or hinges—change its shape,” Tom Gibbons, president of API, has said describing the technology. The ability to make an entire wing morph is the “holy grail” that would provide numerous possibilities, Gibbons said. “I no longer need to have a segment that is just a flap or just an aileron. If the whole wing can optimize aerodynamic needs in different phases of flight, that simply is not something that has been a tool at designers’ disposal until now.”
Among the possibilities for wings: active flaps, ailerons and leading edges, and a combination of morphing leading and trailing edges that can deliver high-lift, turbulence mitigation, deicing and active load-alleviation configurations.
APF has been demonstrating the technology to would-be customers with a 15-foot wing section. “We needed to create something that either flies or demonstrates to the world what we’re talking about in its applications,” said API COO Hank Thompson.
The partnership has identified one of its first applications, a FlexFoil replacement for a KC-135 inboard flap covering the last 26 inches of chord and spanning 142 inches. “We’re taking the section and morphing it to create a mission-adaptive profile that improves fuel efficiency,” Thompson said, “estimated by computational fluid dynamics analysis to be 4 percent. We’re building the static-test article now.”
Interest continues to pick up. “We’ve been fielding inquiries, and we’re engaged [in discussions] with four major OEMs,” he added. Large airframers are not the only ones interested in morphing technology; drone and rotorcraft OEMs are intrigued as well, the latter for morphing rotor blades. The greatest benefit will be realized with new aircraft designs, but morphing tech could also be retrofitted—and also with all types of materials, not just composites, the executives say.