Dwayne Brown Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1726) Fred Brown Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards

, CA (Phone: 805/258-2663) RELEASE: 97-114

May 29, 1997

TESTS BEGUN TO STUDY DECREASE IN AIRCRAFT DRAG; MAY PRODUCE SUBSTANTIAL FUEL COST REDUCTIONS FOR AIRLINES NASA researchers have begun tests on an experiment they hope will improve the efficiency of commercial aircraft by minimizing aerodynamic drag. This, in turn, could mean a savings of up to $140 million annually in commercial fuel costs. Drag is the aerodynamic force resulting from air pressure and friction that acts to resist the passage of an aircraft as it flies through the air. Called the Adaptive Performance Optimization experiment, the tests will obtain data on applying an aircraft's control surfaces in the optimal position to reduce drag. The tests, which began last week, will be conducted on a modified Lockheed L-1011 TriStar by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA. NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, is sponsoring the testing, which is part of the Advanced Subsonic Transport Aircraft Research program led by the Airframe Systems Program Office at Langley. "A drag reduction of only one percent translates into an equivalent saving in fuel usage and fuel costs, a major factor in airline operations when you improve the efficiency of transport aircraft by minimizing aerodynamic drag," said Dryden engineer Glenn Gilyard, principal investigator and flight-test director for the experiment. "There are lots of data to indicate that a one percent improvement is achievable," Gilyard said. "The trick is identifying very small changes in drag," he added. Project

officials are hoping for drag reductions of up to three percent. The modified Lockheed L-1011 TriStar jetliner is operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, VA. The research team plans to fly the aircraft approximately three or four times each year over the next two or three years in both the current and follow-on phases of the experiment. The follow-on phases could incorporate the TriStar's flaps into the system, as well as second-generation computer software using artificial intelligence. Most of the tests will be flown at speeds of about Mach 0.83 and at altitudes of 30,000 to 40,000 feet. Gilyard pointed out that all aircraft are designed to operate most efficiently at a single point in their flight profile. Unfortunately, they often do not fly at that design point, and therefore fly at reduced efficiency. "The experiment is designed to improve aircraft performance during a given flight condition, based on real-time in-flight measurements and analysis," Gilyard said. For the experiment, a team of engineers designed a software program for the aircraft's research computer that reduces aerodynamic drag of the entire aircraft by changing the positions of the aerodynamic control surfaces. The program incorporates data such as airspeed, altitude, engine measurements and other parameters to make instantaneous decisions on adjusting the position of the control surfaces for the greatest aircraft efficiency for each point in the flight profile. In addition to developing the software, NASA engineers developed flight-research systems that will record test data and will allow on-board flight test engineers to make decisions and analysis of research data while the flights are in progress. "We are trying to achieve savings based on the difference between what the manufacturer designed the airplane to be and what the airplane actually is," said Gilyard. "The bottom line is how much fuel goes into that airplane over the course of a year. The potential fuel cost savings for a single MD-11 in regular service could be $130,000 per year and for a Boeing 747, the savings could approach $150,000." These tests mark the beginning of programs that will reflect the enabling technology of one of NASA's major aeronautics goals -

- to reduce the cost of air travel by 25 percent within ten years and by 50 percent within 20 years. -endA Photographic image is available to news media to illustrate this release by calling the Headquarters Imaging Branch at 202/3581900. The photo numbers are: 97-HC-365 97-HC-366