Supersonic Laminar Flow Control
One goal of NASA's High-Speed Research (HSR) program is to achieve laminar,
or smooth, airflow over the surface of an aircraft's wing while flying at
supersonic speeds. A supersonic (faster than the speed of sound) transport
flying through the atmosphere at twice the speed of sound is extremely sensitive
to aerodynamic drag generated by air friction on its surface.
By maintaining laminar, or smooth, non-turbulent flow at the surface of the
wing, thereby reducing drag, it is possible to increase an aircraft's fuel
To test this concept, NASA is using an experimental wing surface attached to
the NASA F-16XL at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.
The F-16's large delta wing is similar to the design that likely will be used
on the future High-Speed Civil Transport (HSCT), making the F-16XL an excellent
testbed for the laminar flow research project.
The large, experimental glove has been attached to the upper surface of the
F-16XL's left wing to keep the airflow from becoming turbulent. The glove has
been fitted with a titanium suction panel. A suction system below the panel and
within the fuselage draws part of the air flowing over the wing through 10
million tiny laser-cut holes in the glove.
As an aircraft flies through the atmosphere, a portion of its total
aerodynamic drag is caused by the friction of stationary air meeting the surface
of the moving aircraft. The F-16XL laminar flow test panel is designed to create
a laminar, or smooth, layer of air at the leading edge of the wing, and produce
flow characteristics which will help maintain that laminar flow.
The suction system attached to the glove is designed to stabilize the air
flowing over the wing, and prevent it from becoming turbulent.
The experimental glove, which has already produced some laminar flow in
flight tests, is designed to verify that the entire concept is effective for
large, supersonic transports, such as the future U.S. HSCT.
Researchers also expect data from the F-16XL flight experiments to validate
computer codes that will aid in the design of future supersonic airliners with
laminar flow characteristics.
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