Shaping Aviation: Metal with Memory

Dr. Othmane Benafan, co-principle investigator for the Spanwise Adaptive Wing Project, inspects a model of the shape memory alloy actuator and the outer wing section from an F/A-18 research plane. (NASA)

Through NASA’s Convergent Aeronautics Solutions  (CAS) Project, a team of engineers working within its Spanwise Adaptive Wing  (SAW) project is investigating the feasibility of bending or shaping portions of an aircraft’s wings in-flight, potentially increasing performance and efficiency by reducing weight and drag.

The innovative actuation system that NASA and engineers from The Boeing Company are developing uses shape memory alloy (SMA) material. The SMA materials are used as torque-tube actuators. In this configuration, a single or group of trained SMA tubes is heated via internal heaters or external electrical coils, triggering them to twist and perform the desired actuation to drive a folding wing.