Early airplanes were a mess. Human flight was new, and as technology moved from “a barely functioning jumble of cloth, wire, and engines” to “deadly war machines” in less than a decade, all sorts of wacky configurations were attempted along the way. One of these early innovations was the truss, a support structure connecting the wing to the body of the plane, which can still be seen in small, prop-driven planes to this day. Jet planes mostly moved away from the design, but now NASA wants to … brace yourself … bring it back.
These new trusses brace the wing so that it can be longer, thinner, and lighter, while still supporting a plane. From NASA:
Researchers expect the lighter weight, lower drag truss-braced wing to reduce both fuel burn and carbon emissions by at least 50% over current technology transport aircraft, and by 4 to 8% compared to equivalent advanced technology conventional configurations with unbraced wings.
Using computational results showing how air would flow around the model, they modify the dimensions and shape of the wing and truss to improve areas that may generate undesirable air flow that would increase drag and reduce lift. Then engineers test models in a wind tunnel using multiple experimental techniques to validate the computations and aircraft performance predictions.
Trusses allow for bigger wings, which means more lift. But there are still some truss issues: the truss itself adds drag, but if well designed, that should be more than offset by the improved wings the plane offers. Besides the fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, there’s a hidden, silent benefit: the wings should be quieter, which is great for anyone who doesn’t love the sound of roaring jets overhead.
Written by Kelsey D. Atherton of Popular Science
(Source: Popular Science)