New aerodynamic wing truss could significantly improve fuel efficiency on transport aircraft. [Image Source: NASA]
NASA and Boeing engineers designed a wing that will reduce emissions and fuel consumption by 50%.
Wings create lift, however, they also accumulate weight. The more weight, the more fuel and money is increased in order to make it airborne. An ideal ratio must be met to satisfy both weight reduction and lift to create a fuel efficient design. Current technologies have improved wing design by incorporating lightweight material including titanium alloys and carbon fiber.
The designs, however, have reached a plateau where no major innovations have been made in quite a few years since the last innovation of incorporating winglets (tipped up at the end of wings) to reduce wingtip vortices. Now, a revolutionary breakthrough has been made through a joint effort between NASA and Boeing.
The team of engineers orchestrating the design of the wings significantly reduced the weight by designing incredibly light structures. Generally, super-light weight wings could reduce the durability of the aircraft and jeopardize the structural integrity of the wings during flight. The wings must be able to support the weight of the fuselage including the weight of the wings. So how did the engineers construct such a lightweight structure with the same materials, without compromising strength?
Surprisingly, to accomplish the feat, incredibly rudimentary techniques were implemented. Reverting to the fundamentals of engineering, naturally, triangles form the strongest structures. Making use of this concept, aerodynamic diagonal trusses were introduced to bear much of the stresses experienced by the wing. In doing so, the weight reductions will cause an increase efficiency approaching 50% over current transportation aircraft and an expected 4 to 8% increase for unbraced wings.
While wing trusses have been used for many years, NASA and Boeing have significantly refined the aerodynamics to accommodate for larger aircraft that may now take advantage of the potentially huge fuel savings.
The weight of a 747 wing is 43,090 kg, times two accounts for nearly 90,000 kilograms. Considering the entire aircraft weighs in at 184,567 kg, even a slight percentage of weight reduction in the wings could translate to incredible efficiency savings.
While the current model is proving to be incredibly successful, copious amounts of further tests must be conducted to determine if the weight reductions can support tens of thousands of pounds of thrust exerted onto them. However, should it turn out the concept is feasible, the aviation market could see a huge overhaul to take advantage of the incredible savings.