Don Nolan-Proxmire Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1983


October 8, 1996

Fred Brown Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA (Phone: 805/258-2663) Catherine Watson Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA (Phone: 804/ 864-6122) RELEASE: 96-201 FLIGHT EXPERIMENT SMOOTHES FLOW OVER SUPERSONIC WING In a series of flight tests, NASA engineers have smoothed the flow over the surface of an aircraft flying at supersonic speeds. These tests will lead to the development of surfaces that will greatly restrict the drag of airborne airplanes and thus significantly reduce the cost of flying on commercial airlines. "Supersonic laminar flow control has been called the 'holy grail' of aerodynamics, because it's the last frontier that can offer significant drag reductions and save airlines, and eventually the flying public, a great amount of money. This brings to a successful conclusion a historic achievement in high-speed aerodynamics," said Jeffrey Lavell, project manager of the F-16XL Supersonic Laminar Flow Control (SLFC) experiment at NASAÕs Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA. As an aircraft flies, the friction between the air and the wing creates drag, or resistance, called skin friction drag. Skin friction drag accounts for about half of the total drag on an aircraft. When airflow over the wing becomes turbulent and separates from the wing, skin friction drag increases. Laminar flow, a condition where the airflow over the wings remains smooth and close to the wing, greatly reduces skin friction drag. Smooth, or laminar, flow over a wing can reduce drag and contribute to reduced operating costs by improving fuel consumption and lowering aircraft weight. The objective of the flight tests, part of NASA's High-Speed Research (HSR) program, was to demonstrate that

laminar flow could be achieved over a significant portion of a supersonic wing. "We've had terrific results," Lavell said. "We've obtained a large amount of data that can be used to refine our design codes and provide the U.S. aircraft industry with the means to design SLFC wings." This successful method of maintaining laminar flow could be incorporated into the design of a future High-Speed Civil Transport (HSCT), a conceptual supersonic airliner of the future that would carry 300 passengers at 2.4 times the speed of sound. Flights with the SLFC experiment at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, used an F-16XL, which has a large delta wing. The wing's shape is similar to the design that likely will be used on the HSCT, making the F-16XL an excellent testbed for the laminar flow research project. A large, titanium panel, perforated with more than ten million laser-cut holes, was attached to the upper surface of the F-16XL's left wing. Natural aerodynamic drag on an aircraft wing is caused by the friction of a thin turbulent layer of air moving across the wing's surface. During research flights, a suction system pulled a portion of that thin layer of air through the glove's porous surface to keep the airflow over the wing from becoming turbulent. Without any means of control, the flow over a highlyswept supersonic wing is laminar for only a few inches. By perforating the skin of the glove and providing suction through the perforations, the airflow can remain stable and laminar flow can be extended over most of the wing. NASA flew approximately 40 flights over a 12-month time span, and achieved "a significant amount of laminar flow," according to Lavell. Most of the research flights were at speeds of Mach 2 (approximately 1,400 mph) and altitudes of 35,000 to 55,000 feet, which is close to the proposed range for the future HSCT. The HSR SLFC experiment represents a collaborative effort between NASA and the U.S. aerospace industry. A team composed of Boeing, Rockwell and McDonnell Douglas designed the wing panel and suction system. The panel was assembled at a Boeing facility in Seattle, WA, while the suction system

was fabricated by McDonnell Douglas, Long Beach, CA. NOTE TO EDITORS: A laminar flow fact sheet (FS-1996-09-17LaRC), a graphic of the SLFC concept and video b-roll are available by calling Langley at (804) 864-6122. Photos of the F-16XL aircraft are available by calling Dryden at (805) 258-2665. A photo also is available from the NASA Headquarters Imaging Branch at (202) 358-1900 (Color photo number: 96-HC-573, Black and White photo: 96-H-573). - end -