A bee and a jumbo jet: common sense would tell you that the tiny insect couldn't possibly cause any troubles for the massive airplane, right? Actually, no. Bees can cause trouble. When flying insects get in the way of an airplane's wing during takeoff or landing, it's not just the bugs that suffer. Those little blasts of bug guts disrupt the laminar flow of air over the airplane's wings, creating more drag on the airplane and contributing to increased fuel consumption.
Researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center ran several flight tests of coatings that may one day reduce the amount of bug contamination on the wings of commercial aircraft. Over the course of a few days, the bug team put the coatings through a series of takeoffs and landings on NASA Langley's HU-25C Falcon aircraft. For each flight test, researchers attached surfaces covered with engineered coatings and then an uncoated "control" surface to each wing of the HU-25C. In all, researchers tested eight coatings.
One of the notable differences in the characteristics of insect residues between coated and uncoated surfaces is the smaller area of the residue. In some cases, residue heights were also reduced. The combination of lower residue height and smaller splat area can help reduce disruption in laminar flow. Smaller splats also increase the probability that the contaminants will come off during flight and keep the wing surface clean.