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Date: Oct. 18, 1995

Don Nolan-Proxmire
Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
(202) 358-1983

Don Haley
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.
(805) 258-3456

Keith Henry
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
(804) 864-6120

Rel. 95-100 (also Headquarters Rel. 95-184)


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 aircraft.

The goal of the project is to achieve what is called laminar, or smooth, air flow over the surface of an aircraft’s 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 agency’s 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 wing’s 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 aircraft’s 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 compressor.

Natural aerodynamic drag on an aircraft wing is caused by the friction of a thin turbulent layer of air moving across the wing’s 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 glove’s 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 flights.

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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