Modelled after birds, this wing can adaptively change its shape in-flight. Just by morphing it can help civil aircraft save up to 15% of fuel per flight.
Tigran Mkhoyan is showing a scale model of the SmartX-Alpha wing. (Photo: TU Delft TV)

Modelled after birds, this wing can adaptively change its shape in-flight. Just by morphing it can help civil aircraft save up to 15% of fuel per flight.

Pressure sensors, glass fibres for nerves and servomotors instead of muscles – the award-winning SmartX-Alpha wing model has it all. And what’s more, it reacts to fluctuations in the wind like a living organism.

Inspired by nature
Five years ago Tigran Mkhoyan (Aerospace Engineering) – and two fellow PhD students – started working on the model. “The idea was to come up with an active morphing wing design that could be the future of greener aviation.”

Current aircraft are stuck with a wing shape that is generally designed for the phase they stay in the longest. “Like the cruise phase, for example. But anywhere outside of the cruise, this particular wing shape is not the most efficient,” explains Mkhoyan.

  • How does this morphing wing work? Watch the latest episode of TU Delft TV to find out:

By using a shape that can change and morph into any kind of configuration you like, you can adjust it as needed to the particular condition. Mkhoyan: “It is inspired by nature, by the way birds change the shape of their wings in flight.”

Multiple sensors on board the aircraft tell the wing when and how to change its shape. “There are sensors that measure the airflow and help decide whether to move the wing into a more favourable position.”

In the future, Mkhoyan wants to perform this technique in-flight on a civil aircraft. “By just morphing alone, we can save up to 10% to 15% of fuel. I believe this would be a big step to a greener future.”