The early Wright Flyer famously used wing warping for its roll control surfaces. This technology was soon abandoned in favor of ailerons and by the end of the biplane era, was not used anymore. I assume a good part of this was the greater amount of control that rigid control surfaces allowed.

There appear to be some experimental supersonic aircraft that are using wing warping (or wing morphing) technology. What is the perceived advantage of this new generation of wing warping technology, what are barriers to its adoption, and how practicable is it for it to trickle down to general aviation?


2 Answers 2


All wings warp. The extent of warping is one restriction which limits the fast side of the flight envelope.

Once aircraft designers realized that thick wings have less drag, they tried to build their wings as stiff as possible. Stiff wings allow to use airfoils with rear loading, will have higher flutter frequencies and keep their shape even when operating at high dynamic pressure.

Since the center of pressure moves chordwise on cambered airfoils depending on the angle of attack, any cambered wing will suffer from pitching moments around its axis of elasticity. This moment will twist the wing and change the incidence of the outer wing sections. A stiff wing will suffer less twisting and stay closer to its ideal aerodynamic shape. Add an aileron, and another twisting moment is added on top. Now the wing twists opposite to the aileron deflection! This can become so bad that most of the aileron's effectiveness is lost as the wing is warped in a way which counteracts the lift change of the aileron.

The X-53 research aircraft uses this effect with an array of leading and trailing edge devices to actively warp the wing in the desired direction. Using computer-controlled deflections of small but very effective control surfaces, it creates a desired deformation of the wing for roll control.

This can be compared to the effect a Flettner tab has on an aileron. The Flettner tab is a small control surface at the trailing edge of a larger control surface and is deflected by the pilot such that it moves the big control surface in opposite direction. It slightly reduces the effectiveness of the big control surface, but needs only a fraction of the stick force, thus helping to manually control big aircraft.

Since the active wing warping of the X-53 depends on the proper functioning of the FCS and an array of movable devices, each with its own failure mode, I would hesitate to see this as a clear advantage. It allows, however, to control the aircraft at high dynamic pressure with minimal drag penalties.


After searching for morphing I stumbled on to this question and just wanted to add a few things to what was already said since the question is a bit old, in case anyone like myself happens across it during a search...

Question: What is the perceived advantage of this new generation of wing warping technology, what are barriers to its adoption, and how practicable is it for it to trickle down to general aviation?

Answer: A warped wing or a morphing airfoil, shows significant improvement in lift to drag ratio and in decreasing the overall drag of the vehicle. Depending on the specific technology many of the components are internal which has several benefits (decreased drag, increased life span) and with advancing technology and research the power consumption and additional weight of these components has been significantly reduced. In the world of UAS's morphing wings have been show in some cases to increase stall AoA by 8 degrees or more (see Membrane Wing-Based Micro Air Vehicles) The complexity of analyzing morphing wings and airfoils however can present a challenge, as now there is significantly more fluid structure interaction, requiring solvers with more capabilities, or an increase in experimental data. Large scale implementation is currently underway (see NASA Successfully Tests Shape-Changing Wing for Next Generation Aviation or Morphing Wing Passes Test, Business Jet Flew Concept Years in Making) and in a aerospace world that is concerned about improvements to develop faster and more efficient vehicles this technology holds some appeal.


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