Morphing materials form the shape of wings to come

Materials engineers in Bristol believe morphing structures could play a vital role in the aerospace industry

Indepth – Birds of a feather

US agencies have been researching morphing structures for years

While in Europe a great deal of work is currently underway to develop morphing structures, in the US, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been key global players in driving forward the technology.

In the mid-1990s, NASA’s Morphing Project was run from its Langley Research Center with the goal of identifying enabling technologies in smart materials, adaptive structures and micro-flow control. The project formally closed in 2004, however, much of the work still continues in collaboration with industry and other governmental agencies.

DARPA’s Morphing Aircraft Structures (MAS) programme chose a different route of research. Its aim was to design, construct and demonstrate aerodynamically efficient, shape-changing wings. It successfully demonstrated this in 2006, following the autonomous flight test of the second-generation morphing UAV, the MFX-2.