Air travel produces roughly 5 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, edging us closer to an era of runaway climate change. As part of an ongoing effort to develop greener planes and reduce the aviation industry’s environmental impact, NASA recently tested new shape-shifting flaps through the group’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project (ERA.) The Adaptive Compliant Training Edge (ACTE) program replaces conventional aluminum flaps on aircrafts with twistable trailing-edge flaps that may be more aerodynamic than their fixed counterparts, improve fuel-efficiency, and reduce noise during take off and landing.

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A joint initiative between NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), reports, ACTE uses a flexible ‘geometry airfoil system called FlexFoil’ that was designed by FlexSys, Inc. These shapeshifting parts can be retrofitted to existing airplane wings or attached to new airframes.

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“This flight test is one of the NASA Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) Project’s eight large-scale integrated technology demonstrations to show design improvements in drag, weight, noise, emission and fuel reductions,” Fay Collier, ERA project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, told

The initial test took place over the summer at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. For this, the experimental control systems were ‘locked in’ but in subsequent tests, various flexible settings will be used to determine whether the flapping parts can withstand conditions of a real-world flight.

Sridhar Kota, CEO and Founder of FlexSys, Inc. expressed hope that the modified Gulfstream III tests will demonstrate that FlexFoil can safely improve the aircraft’s efficiency so that they can explore scaling up the design for commercial applications.


Images via NASA