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Aircraft wings that change shape mid flight and flex like a birds – MIT and NASA

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A ‘morphing wing’ system that is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic and assembled by small robots.

nasa-madcat-morphing-wing-breakdown

Each of these flight scenarios, takeoff, landing, cruising and maneuvering etc, has its own set of optimal wing shapes. A conventional fixed wing aircraft (one shape) is a compromise that is not optimized for any of these, and therefore sacrifices efficiency and fuel usage. A wing that could alter its shape during operation could provide the best configuration at each stage of flight.

With this in mind a team of engineers built and tested a radically new kind of airplane wing, assembled from hundreds of tiny identical pieces. The wing can change shape to control the plane’s flight, and would provide a significant boost in aircraft production, flight, and maintenance efficiency, the researchers say.

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Eli Gershenfeld, NASA Ames Research Center

Instead of requiring separate movable surfaces such as ailerons to control the roll and pitch of the plane, as conventional wings do, the new assembly system makes it possible to deform the whole wing, or just sections of it, by incorporating a mix of stiff and flexible components in its structure. The tiny sub-assemblies, which are bolted together to form an open, lightweight lattice framework, are then covered with a thin layer of similar polymer material as the skin.

The result is a wing that is much lighter, and thus much more energy efficient, than those with conventional designs, whether made from metal or composites. Because the structure, comprising thousands of tiny triangles of matchstick-like struts, is composed mostly of empty space, it forms a mechanical “metamaterial” that combines the structural stiffness of a rubber-like polymer and the extreme lightness and low density of an aerogel.

mit-morphing-wing-madcat project
Tiny pieces placed together to form metamaterial eventually done by robots Credit: MIT

While this version was hand-assembled by a team of graduate students, the repetitive process is designed to be easily accomplished by a swarm of small, simple autonomous assembly robots. The design and testing of the robotic assembly system is the subject of an upcoming paper, Jenett says.

Because the overall configuration of the wing or other structure is built up from tiny subunits, it really doesn’t matter what the shape is. “You can make any geometry you want,” he says. “The fact that most aircraft are the same shape” (essentially a tube with wings) “is because of expense. It’s not always the most efficient shape.” But due to massive investments in design, tooling, and production it has been easier to stay with long established configurations up to this point.

The individual parts for the wing uses injection molding with polyethylene resin in a complex 3-D mold, and produces each part. These are essentially a hollow cube made up of matchstick sized struts along each edge made in just 17 seconds, he says, which brings it a long way closer to scalable production levels.

nasa-madcat-morphing-wing-individual-piece

“Now we have a manufacturing method,” he says. While there’s an upfront investment in tooling, once that’s done, “the parts are cheap,” he says. “We have boxes and boxes of them, all the same.”

The resulting lattice, he says, has a density of 5.6 kilograms per cubic meter. By way of comparison, rubber has a density of about 1,500 kilograms per cubic meter. “They have the same stiffness, but ours has less than roughly one-thousandth of the density,” Jenett says.

The new approach to wing construction could afford greater flexibility in the design and manufacturing of future aircraft. The new wing design was tested in a NASA wind tunnel and is described today in a paper in the journal Smart Materials and Structures, co-authored by research engineer Nicholas Cramer at NASA Ames in California; MIT alumnus Kenneth Cheung SM ’07 PhD ’12, now at NASA Ames; Benjamin Jenett, a graduate student in MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms; and eight others.

While it is possible to include motors and cables to produce the forces needed to deform the wings, the team has taken this a step further and designed a system that automatically responds to changes in its aerodynamic loading conditions by shifting its shape — a sort of self-adjusting wing.

This is all accomplished by the careful design of the relative positions of struts with different amounts of flexibility or stiffness, designed so that the wing, or sections of it, bend in specific ways in response to particular kinds of stresses.

Cheung and others demonstrated the basic underlying principle a few years ago, producing a wing about a meter long, comparable to the size of typical remote-controlled model aircraft. The new version, about five times as long, is comparable in size to the wing of a real single seater plane and could be easy to manufacture.

The same system could be used to make other structures as well, Jenett says, including the wing-like blades of wind turbines, where the ability to do on-site assembly could avoid the problems of transporting ever-longer blades. Similar assemblies are being developed to build space structures, and could eventually be useful for bridges and other high performance structures.

The team included researchers at Cornell University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Santa Cruz, NASA Langley Research Center, Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania, and Qualified Technical Services, Inc., in Moffett Field, California. The work was supported by NASA ARMD Convergent Aeronautics Solutions Program (MADCAT Project), and the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms.

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Aircraft

Boeing takes a $20 Million liking to Virgin Galactic

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Virgin Galactic Test Flight

Virgin Galactic has already invested $1 billion of capital towards building reusable human spaceflight systems designed to enable more people to experience space. Boeing now wants a piece of the pie.

KEY POINTS

  • Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, is in the final stretch of testing, with CEO George Whitesides saying the company “still feels good about going into operation next year.”
  • Virgin Galactic is planning to list on the New York Stock Exchange later this year, through a merger announced in July with Social Capital Hedosophia.
  • When Virgin Galactic does go public, Boeing’s venture arm, HorizonX, will take a $20 million minority stake in the company.
  • Boeing and Virgin Galactic will work together to broaden commercial space access and transform global travel technologies.
White Knight Two carrier aircraft, VMS Eve on tarmac at Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic's Gateway to Space
White Knight Two carrier aircraft, VMS Eve on the tarmac at Spaceport America. Credit: Virgin Galactic

In July, Virgin Galactic announced its intent to become a publicly-listed entity via a business combination with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. (“SCH”) is a partnership between the investment firms of Social Capital and Hedosophia.

Boeing has just announced its commitment to spend $20 Million dollars to acquire a minority stake in Virgin Galactic once it has listed. This investment from Boeing brings together two companies with extensive experience in the space industry.

Virgin Galactic is a pioneer of commercial human space flight and is the first and only company to have put humans into space in a vehicle built for commercial service, having built and flown a Mach 3 passenger vehicle. Through its manufacturing and development capabilities, Virgin Galactic can design, build, test, and operate a fleet of advanced aerospace vehicles.

Boeing has unsurpassed experience transporting people to orbit and building and operating large structures in that challenging environment. A part of every U.S. manned space program, Boeing serves as NASA’s prime contractor for the International Space Station (ISS) and is preparing the new, reusable, Starliner space capsule for launch to the ISS.

Virgin Galactic Space Ship Two
Virgin Galactic is a pioneer of commercial human space flight. Credit: Virgin Galactic

What Boeing says

“Boeing’s strategic investment facilitates our effort to drive the commercialization of space and broaden consumer access to safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible new forms of transportation,” said Brian Schettler, senior managing director of Boeing HorizonX Ventures. “Our work with Virgin Galactic, and others, will help unlock the future of space travel and high-speed mobility.”

What Sir Richard Branson says

“This is the beginning of an important collaboration for the future of air and space travel, which are the natural next steps for our human spaceflight program,” said Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic. “Virgin Galactic and Boeing share a vision of opening access to the world and space, to more people, in safe and environmentally responsible ways.”

What the Virgin Galactic CEO says

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, noted: “we are excited to partner with Boeing to develop something that can truly change how people move around the planet and connect with one another. As a Virgin company, our focus will be on a safe and unparalleled customer experience, with environmental responsibility to the fore.”

Boeing to invest in Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity soars into space. Credit: Virgin Galactic

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Newly named Edmiston London Heliport Revealed

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The Battersea London Heliport has now been revealed as the new Edmiston London Heliport after yacht company Edmiston takes over the title sponsorship.

Edmiston London Heliport aerial view
Aerial view of the Edmiston London Heliport.

If The London Heliport has been looking a little more spritely lately its because she’s just celebrated her 60th anniversary this year and has been given the go-ahead to paint the town red thanks to Edmiston Yachts who have taken over naming rights and invested in a major re-fit of the interior and exterior.

Located in Battersea, The London Heliport which is owned by UK billionaire’s the Reuben Brothers since 2012, has been operating since 1959 and is the only Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approved heliport in the Capital to handle 12,000 take-offs and landings per year, making it one very busy heliport.

Helicopter at the Edmiston London Heliport
The Edmiston London Heliport can handle 12,000 takeoffs and landings per year.

“For us this is more than a branding exercise. “

Edmiston Chief Executive – Jamie Edmiston

In a recent statement, Edmiston Chief Executive, Jamie Edmiston commented, “we have made a long-term commitment to this key London gateway.  For us this is more than a branding exercise. Our aim has been to bring the rigorous focus, attention to detail and teamwork that you would find on board a large yacht, to the operation of this heliport. Working in close partnership with the management and owners of London Heliport, our objective is to deliver the best possible experience for those who use London Heliport.”

Edmiston London Heliport Lounge
Edmiston London Heliport Lounge.
Edmiston London Heliport landing pad
with a 16t limit the Edmiston London Heliport can accept helicopters as big as the 7 passenger Leonardo AW109
Leonardo AW109 Helicopter
The Ferrari of Helicopters – The Leonardo, formally AgustaWestland, AW109 can land at the Edmiston London Heliport.

As well as catering for both business and leisure clients with charter services and “seat-only” sightseeing flights (that even have a separate entrance to maintain privacy for its VIP guests), the heliport also provides valuable services to the Air Ambulance (HEMS) and Police Air Support units, with the upgrades to the facility the heliport allowing them to continue offering the best support possible.

London Heliport General Manager Simon Hutchins is also pleased with the developments, stating “Edmiston is a prestigious luxury brand to be aligned with and Jamie Edmiston has overseen a significant investment that has revitalised the whole look of the heliport. We are looking forward to showing off the new branding to customers and industry friends soon.” 

Edmiston London Heliport

And with some of those customers undoubtedly being Edmiston Yacht clients, the partnership makes perfect sense. What quicker way to reach your private superyacht and get your holidays started than a helicopter transfer?

Edmiston London Heliport aerial view
Aerial view of the Edmiston London Heliport.
Edmiston London Heliport Entrance
Edmiston London Heliport entrance.
Edmiston London Heliport front desk
The Edmiston London Heliport reception.

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Leonardo: Solid presence in the Brazilian VIP helicopter market with new orders

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New contracts with a total of nearly € 30 million continue Leonardo’s success in South America’s VIP/Corporate multi-engine helicopter market.

São Paulo, Brazil: During the regions largest luxury helicopter expo, the Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (LABACE), Leonardo announced the marquee was building on it’s success in South America’s VIP/Corporate multi-engine helicopter market with new orders for a total of five units valued at nearly 30 million euro.

AW109 orders

The official distributor of Leonardo’s AW109 Trekker in Brazil, ICON, has signed firm orders for two units in VIP configuration. Additionally, one more VIP AW109 Trekker and one AW109 GrandNew were purchased by two different private regional operators. The Trekker combines the popular AW109 Grand airframe and large cabin with state-of-the-art Genesys Aerosystems core avionics and skids.

Leonardo AW109 Trekker
Three new Leonardo AW109 Trekker helicopters have been ordered in South America. Photo: Leonardo
Leonardo AW109 Grand New
One Leonardo AW109 Grand New has been ordered. Photo: Sloane Helicopters

AW169 orders

Brazil has also readily embraced the new generation AW169. The country is adding one copy, upping the total AW169 VIP fleet to 5 by the end of 2019 which will join a further eight units in service across the Americas by then for VIP and EMS roles. The AW169 features top-notch soundproofing, entertainment systems, and extensive personal customization. Its Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) mode is a victory for safety and comfort, offering complete climate control (heat or cooling) and on-board system use and management while the rotors remain fully stopped. The large cabin seats up to 10 people with room to spare. Over 200 AW169s have been sold to customers worldwide to date to carry out VIP/Corporate transport, EMS/SAR, law enforcement, offshore transport, electronic news gathering, firefighting, utility and for government/military duties.

Globally Leonardo has a 40% market share in the VIP multi-engine segment. In South America that represents 220 helicopters, with over 170 of those flying in Brazil.

Leonardo AW169 helicopter
Leonardo AW169. Photo: Sloane Helicopters (Leonardo distributor)

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