NASA researchers are studying insects and birds, and using "smart" materials with uncanny properties to develop new and mindboggling aircraft designs.
The "personal aircraft" that replaces the beloved automobile in people's garages may still lie in the realm of science fiction or Saturday-morning cartoons, but researchers at NASA's Langley Research Centre. (LARC) are developing exotic technologies that could bring a personal "air-car" closer to reality.
And air-cars are just the beginning.
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Self-healing wings that flex and react like living organisms, versatile bombers that double as agile jet fighters, and swarms of tiny unmanned aircraft are just a few of the science-fiction-like possibilities that these next-generation technologies could make feasible in the decades ahead.
At the core of this impending quantum leap in aerospace technology are "smart" materials -- substances with uncanny properties, such as the ability to bend on command, "feel" pressure, and transform from liquid to solid when placed in a magnetic field.
"This is technology that most people aren't aware even exists," said Anna McGowan, program manager for the Morphing Project at LARC, which develops these new technologies.