Green Design

From Aircraft Wings to Wind Turbine Blades: NASA Software Comes Back to Earth with Green Energy Applications

You might think a wind turbine would have more in common with a plane’s propeller than an aircraft wing, but wind blades actually behave a lot more like wings than props. This fact has enabled a valuable spinoff from aerospace to wind energy involving the first software that NASA ever allowed to be commercialized as part of the Agency’s ongoing effort to transfer technology to U.S. business and industry.

As a Lockheed Engineering and Sciences contractor in the late 1980s, I was one of the original NASA Langley Research developers of a software code, ST-SIZE, which was first used at the Center for structural sizing and design optimization for a new, high-speed aircraft. The software tool works in a feedback loop with finite element analysis (FEA) to automatically search for composite (or metal) solutions that minimize weight while maximizing manufacturability.

Since NASA allowed me to commercialize (and rename) HyperSizer software in 1994, Collier Research Corporation has continued to work closely with NASA and associated contractors on numerous other aircraft- and space-related projects. NASA’s Crew Launch Vehicle, the Ares I; Heavy Lift Vehicle, Ares V; and the Composite Crew Module (Figure 1) were all designed for zero-failure performance with the aid of HyperSizer. The software has also been used in the design of business jets such as Bombardier’s LearJet, commercial transport planes such as the Cseries, and long-duration, high-altitude aircraft like Scaled Composites Global Flyer piloted by Steve Fossett (Figure 2).