Tag Archives: wing

When seeing nothing is a success

In November I went to Zurich twice: once for the workshop that I wrote about last week [see ‘Fake facts and untrustworthy predictions’ on December 4th, 2019]; and, a second time for a progress meeting of the DIMES project [see ‘Finding DIMES’ on February 6th, 2019].  The progress meeting went well.  The project is on schedule and within budget. So, everyone is happy and you are wondering why I am writing about it.  It was what our team was doing around the progress meeting that was exciting.  A few months ago, Airbus delivered a section of an A320 wing to the labs of EMPA who are our project partner in Switzerland, and the team at EMPA has been rigging the wing section for a simple bending test so that we can use it to test the integrated measurement system which we are developing in the DIMES project [see ‘Joining the dots’ on July 10th, 2019].  Before and after the meeting, partners from EMPA, Dantec Dynamics GmbH, Strain Solutions Ltd and my group at the University of Liverpool were installing our prototype systems to monitor the condition of the wing when we apply bending loads to it.  There is some pre-existing damage in the wing that we hope will propagate during the test allowing us to track it with our prototype systems using visible and infra-red spectrum cameras as well as electrical and optical sensors.  The data that we collect during the test will allow us to develop our data processing algorithms and, if necessary, refine the system design.  The final stage of the DIMES project will involve installing a series of our systems in a complete wing undergoing a structural test in the new Airbus Wing Integration Centre (AWIC) in Filton, near Bristol in the UK.  The schedule is ambitious because we will need to install the sensors for our systems in the wing in the first quarter of next year, probably before we have finished all of the tests in EMPA.  However, the test in Bristol probably will not start until the middle of 2020, by which time we will have refined our algorithm for data processing and be ready for the deluge of data that we are likely to receive from the test at Airbus.  The difference between the two wing tests besides the level of maturity of our measurement system, is that no damage should be detected in the wing at Airbus whereas there will be detectable damage in the wing section in EMPA.  So, a positive result will be a success at EMPA but a negative result, i.e. no damage detected, will be a success at Airbus.

The DIMES project has received funding from the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 820951.


The opinions expressed in this blog post reflect only the author’s view and the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

Coverts inspire adaptive wing design

Earlier this summer, when we were walking the South West Coastal Path [see ‘The Salt Path‘ on August 14th, 2019], we frequently saw kestrels hovering above the path ahead of us.  It is an enthralling sight watching them use the air currents around the cliffs to soar, hang and dive for prey.  Their mastery of the air looks effortless.  What you cannot see from the ground is the complex motion of their wing feathers changing the shape and texture of their wing to optimise lift and drag.  The base of their flight feathers are covered by small flexible feathers called ‘coverts’ or ‘tectrix’, which in flight reduce drag by providing a smooth surface for airflow.  However, at low speed, such as when hovering or landing, the coverts lift up and the change the shape and texture of the wing to prevent aerodynamic stalling.  In other words, the coverts help the airflow to follow the contour of the wing, or to remain attached to the wing, and thus to generate lift.  Aircraft use wing flaps on their trailing edges to achieve the same effect, i.e. to generate sufficient lift at slow speeds, but birds use a more elegant and lighter solution: coverts.  Coverts are deployed passively to mitigate stalls in lower speed flight, as in the picture.  When I was in the US last month [see ‘When upgrading is downgrading‘ on August 21st, 2019], one of the research reports was by Professor Aimy Wissa of the Department of Mechanical Science & Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who is working on ‘Spatially distributed passively deployable structures for stall mitigation‘ in her Bio-inspired Adaptive Morphology laboratory.  She is exploring how flaps could be placed over the surface of aircraft wings to deploy in a similar way to a bird’s covert feathers and provide enhanced lift at low speeds.  This would be useful for drones and other unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) that need to manoeuvre in confined spaces, for instance in cityscapes.

I must admit that I had occasionally noticed the waves of fluttering small feathers across the back of a bird’s wing but, until I listened to Aimy’s presentation, I had not realised their purpose; perhaps that lack of insight is why I specialised in structural mechanics rather than fluid mechanics with the result that I was worrying about the fatigue life of the wing flaps during her talk.


The picture is from a video available at Kestrel Hovering and Hunting in Cornwall by Paul Dinning.