In order to make their aircraft more aerodynamic, NASA is currently flight-testing the FlexFoil, a new, advanced system, which replaces an airplane’s standard mechanical flaps with a shape-shifting wing. For over the last 100 years, in fact, since way back in 1911, almost every airplane that has ever been constructed has used mechanical flaps for manoeuvres such as climbing, descents and slow flight.

Although the current, airplane’s standard mechanical flaps are effective, unfortunately they are aerodynamically uneconomical. This is thanks to the gaps and acute angles involved. You may have seen this in action if you have ever been a passenger on an aircraft and have occupied a windows seat near to the wing.

NASA's new design could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

The new system is called the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edges (ACTE). NASA is currently testing the new wing surface, on its Gulfstream III test bed. Apparently the first test flights went smoothly, although the surfaces were locked into a rigid position for takeoff and landing.

The test that will be undertaken in the future will use numerous flap settings and different phases of flight in order to verify if the technology is realistically possible to be used on commercial aircraft. NASA has said that if the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edges could be used commercially, the technology has the potential to significantly reduce noise and also save hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs per year.

[Image via NASA]