I am working on a variable shape airfoil which is originally intended for sailboats. However, I am wondering if there might be an application for such a design within aviation? The design I am working on can change thickness, camber, and twist quickly at the same time. The whole wing asymmetry can be mirrored within a second as well.

Is there an application for variable wing shape or geometry similar to this in aviation?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You may like to look into wing warping, used for old aircraft designs in the early 1900s (before hinged control surfaces became the universal standard). It may be possible if you can deal with the mechanical challenges. Also you should put a little more information on your question, as the website link looked like spam (someone has already removed it.) $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Nov 10, 2016 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ The F-14 Tomcat (and others) have a simple form of variable wing geometry (variable wing sweep) $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2016 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ There are swing-wings, pivot wings and variable AoA wings, so I'd say "Yes". $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Nov 10, 2016 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ Wing re-shaping or flexing is not an outdated technology. Several modern efforts are exploring such applications using new material technologies. There is definitely an application for such designs within aviation, especially when used as in ways to replace control surface or flap designs. $\endgroup$
    – J Walters
    Nov 10, 2016 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ Well I guess Krueger flaps are a form or variable shape wings. I can't see why other means cant be of use. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krueger_flap $\endgroup$
    – Whacko
    Feb 21, 2017 at 13:17

1 Answer 1


Well, yes.

Variable shape wings (or variable geometry) have a number of uses, primarily in being able to optimize the shape of the wing to an ideal form for the regime of flight.

The idea isn't new; birds, bats and other flying creatures twist and warp the shape of their wings in order to maneuver and generate thrust as these pigeons demonstrate.

enter image description here

The Wright Brothers used a warping wing box on their gliders and the 1903 flyer. Orville Wright is said to have come up with the idea while twisting a rectangular cardboard box used to ship bicycle tire inner tubes.

The chief advantages to such a design are that it provides an extremely clean airframe, aerodynamic wise, without joints, separate control surfaces, moving parts, etc which create excess drag. In addition, the aircraft shape can automatically be optimized to the altitudes, speeds and Mach numbers desired without tradeoffs for weight or performance required with aircraft made from conventional materials.

The downside to warping wings is solving the problem of finding materials which could be flexible and change their shape and then remain rigid and immutable under aerodynamic loads. Wood and metal airframes lacked the capability to do this successfully.

Early attempts to solve this problem have been to make 'swing wing' designs where the wing can be rotated at the wing root to an optimal sweep in flight. The Bell X-5 successfully demonstrated this concept and it has been used on a number of military aircraft including the F-111, F-14, MiG-23/27, B-1, and SU-22.

NASA is currently developing a morphing wing for these reasons. If successful and shown to be feasible from a manufacturing and service standpoint, it would be a game changer.

enter image description here


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