Motion Control

NASA Tests Shape Memory Alloy to Fold Aircraft Wings in Flight

The ability to fold wings in flight has been dependent on heavy and bulky conventional motors and hydraulic systems, which can be cumbersome to aircraft. As part of the Spanwise Adaptive Wing project, NASA has successfully applied a lightweight shape memory alloy in flight that allows aircraft to fold their wings to different angles while in the air. The shape memory alloy is built into to an actuator on the aircraft, which plays a vital role for moving parts on the airplane, where it has the ability to fold the outer portion of an aircraft’s wings in flight without the strain of a heavy hydraulic system. Systems with this new technology may weigh up to 80 percent less than traditional systems. The shape memory alloy is triggered by temperature, and works by using thermal memory in a tube to move and function as an actuator. Upon being heated, the alloy would activate a twisting motion in the tubes, which ultimately moves the wing’s outer portion up or down.