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March 27, 2002

Release: 02-18

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As the first aircraft sporting the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission's official logo, a modified NASA F/A-18 is poised to begin investigation of Active Aeroelastic Wing (AAW) technology--a 21st-century, high-tech twist on wing warping for flight control pioneered by the Wright brothers almost a century ago. The aircraft was displayed Wednesday during rollout ceremonies at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif.

The overall goal of this $41 million program is to demonstrate improved aircraft roll control through aerodynamically-induced wing twist on a full-scale manned supersonic aircraft.

AAW research could also enable thinner, higher aspect-ratio wings on future aircraft, which could result in reduced aerodynamic drag, allowing greater range or payload and improved fuel efficiency. Data obtained from flight tests at NASA Dryden will provide benchmark design criteria as guidance for future aircraft designs.

The AAW program is a cooperative venture of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing's Phantom Works and NASA Dryden to research the use of lighter-weight flexible wings for improved maneuverability of future high-performance aircraft. The project reflects both a return to aviation's beginnings, and a gateway to the future--a future where aircraft will sense their environment, and adapt their shape to the existing flight conditions.

"This aircraft and this technology is the first research stepping stone to dramatically improved performance and safety that NASA intends to pursue for the 21st century aircraft," said Denis Bessette, project manager for AAW flight research at NASA Dryden.

"Active Aeroelastic Wing both returns aeronautics to its beginnings, and opens the way to new avenues of lifting surface research in the future," added Ed Pendleton, Active Aeroelastic Wing program manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The test aircraft--an F/A-18A obtained from the U.S. Navy--has been modified with additional actuators, a split leading edge flap and thinner wing skins that will allow the outer wing panels to twist up to five degrees. The traditional wing control surfaces--trailing edge ailerons and the outboard leading edge flaps--are used to provide the aerodynamic force needed to twist or "warp" the wing. Project engineers hope to obtain almost equivalent roll performance of production F/A-18s at transonic and supersonic speeds without deflecting the horizontal tail and with smaller control surface movements.

The most extensive loads testing ever performed in Dryden's Flight Loads Laboratory was conducted last year on the F/A-18's modified wings. The six-month structural loads effort included wing twist or torsional testing and extensive loads calibration testing at up to 70 percent of the design limit load of the airplane, with load distribution over the wings a particularly critical item.

Following ground vibration tests and various checkout procedures, the two-phase AAW flight test program is slated to begin with parameter identification flights in July 2002. Boeing's Phantom Works will use data obtained from the first series of flights to refine wing effectiveness models and design the AAW flight control laws. The second phase of research flights to demonstrate the AAW concept with effective control laws should take place in mid- 2003, almost 100 years after the Wright brothers' first powered flight on Dec. 17, 1903.

Boeing Phantom works in St. Louis, Mo., modified the F/A-18's wings and is developing the active aeroelastic wing flight control software.

"We understood the challenge, drew on talent from across Boeing and the AAW program partners, and then applied that technical expertise to achieve results," said Jim Guffey, AAW program manager for Boeing Phantom Works. "We consider the AAW project a renaissance in flight control systems, and we're looking forward to flight testing."

The official Centennial of Flight logo was on the AAW aircraft Wednesday during the rollout ceremonies at NASA Dryden.

"This logo honors the Wrights' accomplishments and the contributions of others whose vision, persistence and ingenuity have taken us from the sand dunes of North Carolina's outer banks to the surface of the moon and a permanent presence in space," said Debbie Gallaway, assistant director for programs at the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. "The history of aviation and aerospace is a story about individuals from around the world whose ability to dream of flight was only surpassed by their ability to make it happen. Their efforts revolutionized our world."

The U.S. Congress created the Centennial of Flight Commission in 1999 to serve as a national and international source of information about activities to commemorate the centennial of the Wright brothers' first powered flight on the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on Dec. 17, 1903. Centennial activities are scheduled for 2003 in both North Carolina and Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wrights.

One of several Wright Flyer replicas is slated to fly at Dryden in 2003. In addition to these celebrations, numerous historical and educational projects are anticipated on the subject of aviation and aeronautics that will be an important legacy of the centennial of powered flight.


Note to Editors: Still photos and video footage are available from the Dryden Public Affairs Office to support this release. Photos are available on the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center Internet web site, URL: /centers/dfrc/Gallery/Photo/AAW/index.html For hard-copy photo prints or video dubs, please call (661) 276-2665. NASA Dryden news releases are also available on the Internet at: /centers/dfrc/Newsroom/NewsReleases/index.html

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