|Date: Oct. 18, 1995
Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
Rel. 95-100 (also Headquarters Rel. 95-184)
NASA FLIGHTS WILL TEST BREAKTHROUGH AIRPLANE CONCEPT
NASA has begun flight testing an experimental aircraft wing
panel that may lead to a revolutionary way of improving the
aerodynamics and fuel consumption on large future supersonic
The goal of the project is to achieve what is called laminar, or
smooth, air flow over the surface of an aircrafts wing while
flying supersonic, or faster than sound. Researchers say that
laminar flow conditions can reduce aerodynamic drag, or friction,
and contribute to reduced operating costs by improving fuel
consumption and lowering aircraft weight.
If the NASA project is successful, a method of maintaining
laminar flow control could be incorporated into the design of the
High Speed Civil Transport (HSCT), a conceptual supersonic airliner
of the future that would carry 300 passengers at 2.4 times the
speed of sound.
"This is a very important event in the history of aerodynamics.
If we are successful, supersonic laminar flow control will
revolutionize flight," said Jeffrey Lavell, project manager of the
F-16XL Supersonic Laminar Flow Control (SLFC) flight experiment at
NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Langley manages the
project, which is part of the agencys High-Speed Research
Program dedicated to producing technologies critical to the
development of a supersonic passenger jet.
Flights with the SLFC experiment are being carried out at NASA
Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., using an F-16XL,
which has a large delta wing. The wings shape is similar to
the design that likely will be used on the HSCT, making the F-16XL
an excellent testbed for the laminar flow research project.
A large panel, called a glove, has been attached to the upper
surface of the test aircrafts left wing. The titanium panel
has been perforated with more than 10 million laser-cut holes,
while below the panel is a suction system linked to a
Natural aerodynamic drag on an aircraft wing is caused by the
friction of a thin turbulent layer of air moving across the
wings surface. During coming research flights with the
modified F-16XL, the suction system will pull a portion of that
thin layer of air through the gloves porous surface to keep
the airflow from becoming turbulent.
The area below the glove has been divided into 20 sections, and
the strength of the suction in each compartment can be controlled
individually to attain specified conditions during the research
The manager of the SLFC project at Dryden, Marta Bohn-Meyer,
said that up to 70 flights are planned, with as many as 30 to be
flown before the end of 1995. Most of the research flights will be
at speeds of Mach 2 (1,400 mph) and altitudes of 35,000 to 50,000
feet, the proposed range for the HSCT.
NASA project officials hope to have enough data by December to
give HSCT designers an update on the feasibility of the use of SLFC
when they meet then to study possible technologies to incorporate
into that aircraft.
The SLFC experiment represents a collaborative effort between
NASA and the aerospace industry. A team composed of Boeing,
Rockwell and McDonnell Douglas designed the wing panel and suction
system. The panel was assembled at a Boeing facility in Seattle,
Wash., while the suction system was fabricated by McDonnell Douglas
in Long Beach, Calif.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Color artist concepts of the HSCT are available
by calling the Langley Research Center at (804) 864-6124. Photos of
the F16XL aircraft are available by calling the Dryden Flight
Research Center at (805) 258-3449.
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