NASA Tests Revolutionary Shape-Changing Aircraft Flap

NASA's green aviation project is one step closer to developing technology that could make future airliners quieter and more fuel‑efficient with the successful flight test of a wing surface that can change shape in flight. Researchers replaced an airplane’s conventional aluminum flaps with advanced, shape‑changing assemblies that form seamless bendable and twistable surfaces. Flight testing will determine whether flexible trailing‑edge wing flaps are a viable approach to improve aerodynamic efficiency and reduce noise generated during takeoffs and landings.

The ACTE flap was extended to 20 degrees deflection for testing. Flight results will validate whether the design can reduce wing structural weight, improve fuel economy, and reduce environmental impact. (NASA/Ken Ulbrich)

The Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) project is a joint effort between NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), using flaps designed and built by FlexSys of Ann Arbor, MI. FlexSys developed a variable geometry airfoil system called FlexFoil that can be retrofitted to existing airplane wings or integrated into brand new airframes.

During the initial ACTE flight, the experimental control surfaces were locked at a specified setting. Different flap settings will be employed on subsequent flights to collect a variety of data demonstrating the capability of the flexible wings to withstand a real flight environment. The flaps have the potential to be retrofitted to existing airplane wings or integrated into new airframes.