|The idea for the new wing was inspired by natural flyers like birds and insects / Photo Credit: KRIACHKO OLEKSII (via Shutterstock)|
Brown University researchers Matteo Di Luca and colleagues designed a new type of wing that could help small fixed-wing drones become more stable and efficient, reported research news platform Science Daily. The new wing replaces the smooth contour that is commonly found on the leading edges of most airplane wings with a thick, flat plate and a sharp leading edge. In the journal Science Robotics, the researchers showed that the new wing is more stable amid sudden wind gusts and other types of turbulence, which often damage small aircrafts. The wing also provides an “aerodynamically efficient flight” that enable better battery life and longer flight times.
Kenny Breuer, a professor in Brown's School of Engineering and the study's senior author, said small drones are useful in various use cases but they can be inefficient, thereby limiting their battery-powered flight times of most drones to around 30 minutes or so. The idea for the new wing was inspired by natural flyers like birds and insects. A smooth leading edge keeps airflow firmly attached to the wing. However, bird and insect wings often have quite rough and sharp leading edges to promote airflow separation. This causes problems for larger aircrafts. Dubbed as “Separated Flow Airfoil,” it was designed by Brown graduate student Di Luca. The idea behind the design is to intentionally separate the flow at the leading edge, counterintuitively causing the flow to reattach more consistently before reaching the trailing edge. The reattachment is aided by a small rounded flap placed close to the trailing edge of the wing. Therefore, the design allows the wing to have a more efficient and stable flight “at the scale of aircraft with wingspans of about a foot or less.”
There are other benefits to the Separated Flow’s design. It can be far thicker than wings typically used in small drones, making the wings structurally stronger to integrate subsystems like batteries, solar panels, and antennas into the wing. Di Luca and colleagues have a patent on the wing’s design and plan to finetune it for better performance.