There have been many innovative solutions to improving fuel efficiency in aircraft over the years, but a particularly original experiment is currently being undertaken by NASA scientists working alongside Boeing in their eco-Demonstrator project. In an attempt to reduce the level of drag, which in turn will reduce the amount of fuel used in a flight, the NASA team have been looking into how they can prevent insects accumulating on aircraft.
Most of us will have seen our car windscreen after a long drive, with the remains of little insects dotted over it like some weird modern art. Well, aircraft move much faster than cars and the same thing happens across the surfaces of a plane too. Surprisingly, something as seemingly innocuous as a build-up of insect… debris… can reduce fuel consumption by up to 6%, meaning that any measures that can ensure a smooth surface on the fuselage and wings could produce significant results. To this end the researchers are testing a non-stick coating that repels insects in an experiment called ‘Insect Accretion and Mitigation’.
Over the course of 15 test flights, parts of the leading edge slats will be coated with these substances and the aircraft will be measured for any increase in fuel efficiency. Initial experiments with the coatings using wind tunnels produced encouraging results, so it is hoped that these gains will transfer into real-flight savings.