Shape memory alloy allows for foldable wings without actuators

Nasa has successfully applied a new technology in flight that allows aircraft to fold their wings to different angles while in the air.

The recent flight series, which took place at Nasa’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre in California, was part of the Spanwise Adaptive Wing project or SAW. This project aims to validate the use of a cutting-edge, lightweight material that can fold the outer portions of aircraft wings and their control surfaces to optimal angles in flight.

SAW, which is a joint effort between Armstrong, Nasa’s Glenn Research Centre in Cleveland, Langley Research Centre in Virginia, Boeing Research and Technology in St Louis and Seattle, and Area-I in Georgia, may produce multiple in-flight benefits to aircraft in the future, both subsonic and supersonic.

Folding wings in flight is an innovation that had been studied using aircraft in the past, including the North American XB-70 Valkyrie in the 1960s. However, the ability to fold wings in flight has always been dependent on heavy and bulky conventional motors and hydraulic systems, which can be cumbersome to the aircraft.
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