NASA Tests Aircraft Wing Coatings that Slough Bug Guts

NASA and Boeing engineers count insect residue on the right wing of Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator 757 aircraft following a flight test. (NASA/Paul Bagby)
Bug guts create drag, and drag increases fuel consumption. But aircraft of the future could be made more fuel-efficient with non-stick coatings NASA recently tested on Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator 757. NASA and Boeing engineers tested non-stick wing coatings designed to shed insect residue and help reduce aircraft fuel consumption. Researchers assessed how well five different coatings worked to prevent insect remains from sticking to the leading edge of the airplane's right wing.

Most insects fly relatively close to the ground. So, to test the coatings, the 757 made 15 flights that each included several takeoffs and landings. One of the five coating/surface combinations showed especially promising results.

Laminar aircraft wings are designed to be aerodynamically efficient, so if bugs accumulate, it causes the airflow to go from smooth, or laminar, to turbulent, causing additional drag. An aircraft that's designed to have laminar wings flying long distance can save five to six percent in fuel usage.