NASA is in the market for an overhaul in avionics. Their goal is to reduce the detrimental environmental impact aircrafts have on our planet as well as innovate UAV systems. NASA is looking for transformative solutions and is thinking outside the box by investing in new systems that could completely change the way we travel via the air. As part of their Convergent Aeronautics Solutions (CAS) project, NASA has selected six ideas to assess their feasibility. Right now they are pipe dreams which may never be feasible either due to cost or limitations in technology, however you cannot design a unique solution by staying inside the lines.
In fact, NASA experts have busted out their crayons and drawn outside the box to come up with new ideas. Some of which include simulators that are entirely computerized, saving time and money when it comes to testing new aircraft designs. Another is a digital twin for planes to anticipate aging and repairs as advanced prediction could save lives and reduce operational costs. From a more hypothetical standpoint, they will try to answer the question of whether or not artificial intelligence is advanced enough to fly a plane in tricky situations, like bad weather or other aircraft flying too close. Two other ideas involve electric propulsion to power a plane instead of petroleum-based fuels.
Greased Lighting takes off and lands like a helicopter, but flies like a plane! (Video Credit: NASA/ Gary Banziger)
Tests are already underway on electric planes, the most recent being a prototype by the name of Greased Lightening or GL-10. It has ten engines and eight propellers. The plane can lift off like a helicopter with its wings perpendicular to the ground, and then the wings turn to their traditional position to start flying forward. GL-10 lands in the same way it takes off, as the wings turn 45 degrees and lower the plane to a safety. The first prototype has a 10-foot wingspan and has successfully taken off and landed in the last 5 test flights. The plane is also amazingly quiet as with electric engines it is no more than a whisper by comparison. With continued successful test flights, they will find ways to make the plane larger, addressing the challenges that come with more mass and drag.
As part of the Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project, NASA recently shared new experiments to make existing jet liners more efficient. The first one blows jets of air on the vertical tail during takeoff, allowing for a much smaller vertical tail; this will reduce drag while flying, when the vertical tail is less important. The second test is a jet-grade bug repeller! They are testing five different coatings that keep bug residue from sticking to the wings of a plane. Bug guts increase the drag of the plane by disrupting airflow over the wings. While these may appear to be small changes, they can save millions of dollars in fuel consumption and emissions and may be retrofitted to existing planes.