NASA’s new non-stick wings to save money and bugs

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

Non-stick wing coatings designed by NASA to minimize the residue left behind from bugs and to reduce an aircraft’s fuel consumption were put to the test on Monday, as a Boeing jet outfitted with the material flew from Seattle to Shreveport, Louisiana.

Monday afternoon’s flight was just the first of 15 planned test missions scheduled to take place through May 15, the US space agency announced earlier this week. During those test flights, the Boeing ecoDemonstrator 757 flight test jet will be used to assess how well five different coatings prevent insect remains from sticking to the leading edge of its right wing.

The goal of this, according to Aviation Today, is to determine which coating proves most effective at decreasing the amount of insect remains on the wing, as well as to provide engineers with enough data to determine how reducing bug strikes in specific locations can cause turbulent wedges that can increase drag and reduce the aircraft’s fuel efficiency.

Beginning the search for the best insect repellant

The non-stick coatings were developed by engineers at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and underwent initial testing in a small wind tunnel and on the wing of a jet at that facility, the agency said. The five best candidates were selected for further testing using the ecoDemonstrator 757, while officials searched for a bug-rich area for test flights.

A team of NASA, Boeing, US Department of Transportation and University of California-Davis officials narrowed an initial list of 90 airports down to six, ultimately selecting Shreveport due to its runway length, temperature, humidity, thunderstorm frequency, and ability to hand a 757.

Throughout the tests, researchers from Langley and pilots and engineers from Boeing will work together to test the coatings on two leading edge slats on the ecoDemonstrator’s right wing. They first planned to establish a baseline insect accumulation rate using uncoated surfaces, then fly an untreated control surface along with samples of the five coatings undergoing testing.

Previous research has shown that keeping the flow smooth over a wing can reduce fuel usage by up to six percent, and since even something as a small as an insect can interrupt that flow, NASA is hoping to discover which coating most effectively decreases bug residue amounts. In addition, they want to collect data on which specific locations most impact airflow.

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