News | Jan 7, 2020

Air Force flight tests shape-shifting wing

Two U.S. patents issued creates licensing opportunity for aerospace companies to develop high-performance airframes

Drawing of U.S. Patent 9,233,749 "Variable Camber Adaptive Compliant Wing System," issued to the Air Force Research Laboratory's James J. Joo.

U.S. AIr Force

DAYTON, Ohio – A team from the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Aerospace Systems Directorate recently tested a cutting-edge camber morphing wing that could dramatically improve aircraft performance.

The Variable Camber Compliant Wing (VCCW) developed by the lab can change shape on the fly to improve aerodynamic performance in varying flight conditions.

Current aircraft use a combination of rigid flight control surfaces such as ailerons or flaps to control lateral movement, creating unwanted noise and drag and increasing fuel consumption.

The Air Force Research Laboratory-developed Variable Camber Compliant Wing successfully completed a series of flight experiments in September and October of 2019. This unique wing concept changes shape to improve aerodynamic performance and adapt itself to various flight conditions and missions. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

In contrast, the Air Force’s patented wing design allows pilots to optimize wing geometry for current altitude, airspeed, and lift-to-drag ratio requirements. With its seamless, lightweight construction, the new wing minimizes drag, fuel consumption, and maintenance.

“While (modern) control surfaces are an improvement over the original wing-warping control, they also have drawbacks,” wrote inventor Dr. James Joo, AFRL Advanced Structural Concepts team lead and VCCW program manager, in U.S. Patent 9,233,749. “There is a need for an arrangement for varying the dimensions and contours of airfoils so as to optimize (them) for different flight conditions. The wing configuration that would be optimum during stable, undisturbed flight, would be different from the wing configuration that would be optimized during take-off and landing.”

AFRL Variable Camber Compliant Wing Prototype (1 ft span, 2 ft cord) (a) Undeformed wing geometry (b) Deformed (6% camber change) (c) Twist (d) Deformed (rear view)

Commercial Licensing Opportunity

During flight tests conducted in September and October of 2019, the prototype wings successfully completed a number of maneuvers and demonstrated active shape control for optimized drag reduction and increased agility.

Jared Neely, AFRL research engineer, and designer of the morphing wing said the demonstration was an important step in advancing flexible wing technology.

“The success of this demonstration has given us confidence that this technology can be leveraged to higher-class vehicles, to take advantage of the many benefits this technology can truly offer,” Neely said.

Qualified aerospace companies can now pursue the commercialization of the morphing wing, turning it into a new product or product enhancement, through a patent license agreement with the Air Force.

Brian Metzger, senior technology manager at TechLink and the point of contact for businesses interested in reviewing the technology for licensing and commercialization, said the invention represents an ideal and wide-ranging opportunity for companies.

“The morphing wing is a potentially game-changing technology for any company in the aircraft sector. Following the recent round of testing, it has proven it can cut costs while improving control and efficiency,” Metzger said. “It’s perfect for long-range applications, potentially extending the range of battery-powered aircraft.”


For more information contact Dr. Brian Metzger at brian.metzger@montana.edu.