First revealed to the public earlier this year, NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory have finally begun testing what they hope will be a revolutionary new airplane wing design that replaces moving parts with shape-changing assemblies allowing wings to bend and twist to maneuver a craft through the air.
In terms of engineering and manufacturing the design of the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge—or ACTE, for short—is certainly more complicated than the traditional pivoting flaps you'll find on a modern plane's wings, but the possible benefits far outweigh those issues. Not only do the new shape-shifting wings promise improved aerodynamics which in turn means better fuel efficiency, they're also lighter than their predecessors, allowing for a larger fuel tank in the wing which improves the operational range of many aircraft.
And because the adjustable flight surfaces on the shape-shifting wings perfectly curve and blend into the rest of the structure, they'll also serve to greatly reduce the tremendous amount of noise generated as a plane takes off and lands with its flaps extended, which will help reduce the environmental impact of an airport. When perfected, the new wing technology has even been designed so it can be retrofitted onto existing aircraft, not just new planes, so entire fleets can be upgraded to help make airports quieter to their neighbors. [NASA]