The Art of Flight

The reason for the noise in aircraft is not only due to the jet engines but also because of the behavior of the air as it travels over the wing and the fuselage surfaces. This is astonishing when we compare this to a bird flying over our head gliding almost
silently. The secret lies in how it manipulates the airflow over their wings. It does so by using the little serrations in their feathers.

Studies have been taken up to investigate the separation concept. This has been put in turbine blades and wing geometries. This has shown to augment the aerodynamic efficiency. The nature of airflow from the front to rear and the top and bottom surface is modified. An analogy can be drawn at this stage if we consider the air as if it’s a quiet ocean rushing up over a beach. The waves which are more smaller creates lesser sound and similarly, due to these serrations, the noise is further reduced in an aircraft.

Airbus is exploring the serration technology for developing a silent aircraft. Efforts are also underway to use honeycomb as a structural material as it is tremendously sturdy for its mass and has been employed in reducing the weight of aircraft.

Bats use a form of stretchable wing which is extremely strong on the stretch axis. Research groups has identified this tremendously powerful enabling technology where the wing can be used in its compressed state and expanded state at the same time, it, the adaptable wing can be used for both agile and highly efficient cruise configuration. NASA has been working on a morphing wing aircraft and the breakthroughs with honeycomb structure is likely going to accelerate concepts like these into reality.

The dragonfly wing uses a distribution of vanes and the types of hinges interconnecting them to give them immense flexibility in flight. Genetic algorithm backed optimisation technique on the computer generated wing configuration to bring out the shape of the wing has also been proposed. The genetic algorithms been employed into. Boeing has a concept of blended wing body and it’s benefited from the genetic algorithms in reducing the weight of the aircraft by optimizing the skin of the wing itself.

So, nature has conquered the concept of flight in a vast variety of forms. We, as humans are striving to achieve the same. There are hidden patterns and signals from nature to strive further in the effort to perfect the art of flight in the future to come.

‘I think nature’s imagination is so much greater than man’s, she’s never gonna let us relax.’ – Richard Feynmann


The Future of Wings

If we could fly…how would that be! There has been a relentless effort by human civilisation in improving the aerodynamics of flight in last 100 years. As we progress into a new decade, there has been a renewed interest in in mastering the bird flight, though seems to be far away. This is the natural progression on mastering the art of flight. There has been continuous effort in both academia and aerospace industry in particular with the help of the enabling technologies to improve the flight vehicle.

The early pioneers of aviation sought solution by observing bird flight where inspiration were drawn for the aerodynamics and control aspects of the flight. The Wright Brothers, in 1903,  brought concepts of wing warping but the concepts of a continuously shape changing wing like that of the birds was really beyond the technologies of that day.

In essence what evolved out of our capabilities were rigid, with a set of flaps connected using standard hinges and pivots. This is what we have used successfully for the vast majority of commercial and military aircraft to this day.

With this background and template, there is now a standard procedure in aerospace industry at making wings and we can believe that  we have nearly perfected the wing design. But this template has been a historic and the wings designed from it does not do justice to what Nature has achieved when considering a bird flight.

Many factors need to be considered in the design of a wing; the twist, sweep, taper, camber, aspect ratio and the entire range of aerodynamic parameters. These parameters are considered static and are fixed in present wing design. For the operation of flaps, we use some pneumatic or hydraulic mechanism to move the rigid surface. For the last 100 years, we’ve been building these wings to generate lift while sustaining the aerodynamic loads.

In nature, wings adapt to conform to loading while varying these parameters and this is called ‘Wing Morphing’.

If we could design a flight vehicle to fulfill the role of many while doing a better job each of the states then the overall efficiency would improve. There has been concern on the greener skies and so so not only we would have aircraft consuming less fuel but there would be less of them around as a single vehicle would be able to serve for many purpose. The families of aircraft would be condensed into a multi-purpose vehicles, from a hawk in a high-speed agile configuration to a low speed highly efficient cruise configuration.

Researchers all across the globe are embracing biomimetics concepts into the development of ‘wing morphing’, which are revolutionary in design incorporating incorporating bio-inspired design into real-world giving greener, fuel saving applications.