Ryerson prof designs new ‘morphing’ wings for environmentally friendly air travel


Aerospace engineering professor Jeff Xi’s “morphing” wing design still needs a sturdy but bendable covering. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Xi).

Air travel could become more environmentally friendly if one Ryerson aerospace engineering professor’s innovative design for aircraft wings is successful.

With the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Jeff Xi and team are changing the way aircraft wings are structured with their “morphing” design.

Traditionally, aircraft wings are stationary, meaning they remain in a fixed shape during all stages of a flight – take-off, ascent, cruising, descent and landing. Xi’s morphing design adapts to different conditions during flying to maximize the lift-to-drag ratio. This increases the efficiency of the structure, he said. In the case of the morphing wing design, the increased efficiency translates to greater fuel efficiency.

The inspiration for this innovative design came from a meeting Xi attended in 2009 hosted by the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC).

“They were trying to identify innovative technologies to improve aircraft design,” he said. “The morphing wing was one of these technologies.”

Xi said the original idea of the morphing wing, however, can be traced back to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

“Back in 2005, NASA was trying to show people that if an aircraft wing can change shape then you will reduce the drag,” he said.


Professor Jeff Xi’s design will allow aircraft wings to change shape with changing flying conditions, reducing drag for greater fuel efficiency. (Photo courtesy of Bernard Leung/Hi5 Exposure Professional Photography).

For aerospace engineering graduate student Amin Moosavian, the opportunity to work on this project is very exciting simply because of its originality.

“This is definitely something you don’t get to do often,” Moosavian said. “Nobody has ever tried this before and that’s what interested me in working on it.”

The ultimate dream for Xi and his team is to one day travel on an airplane that is using their wing design.

“Engineering is an applied science. Of course whatever I invent, I hope it can be used. That’s the real dream,” Xi said.

But before this becomes a reality, the team faces the challenge of covering their skeletal structure. The dilemma is finding the right material for their tricky contradiction.

“We can’t use something too soft because it will flop around,” says Moosavian. “At the same time, we can’t have the material be too rigid because it will take too much energy to morph and then that just defeats the purpose.”

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