Aviation FlexFoil Airplane Wing Without Flaps

Published on January 21st, 2014 | by Jo Borrás


FlexSys’ 1 Piece Wings Improve Fuel Efficiency by 12%

January 21st, 2014 by  

FlexFoil Airplane Wing Without Flaps

By removing the seams and rivets of conventional airplane wings, the engineers at FlexSys have been able to improve an airplanes’ fuel efficiency by as much as 12% per flight. The Michigan-based company’s seamless, variable geometry airfoil design is called the FlexFoil, and it’s set to be the next big thing in aviation.

According to a 2006 paper co-written by the inventor of the FlexFoil system, mechanical engineer Dr. Sridhar Kota, FlexSys’ new wings are “optimized to resist deflection under significant external aerodynamic loading and are just as stiff and strong as a conventional flap,” which seems to imply that they’ll be able to stand up to the abuse of similarly sized, conventional wings. Indeed, retrofitting FlexFoil wings onto existing planes is part of FlexSys’ business plan.

When retrofitted onto a conventional wing aircraft, FlexFoil can reduce fuel consumption by a claimed 4 to 8%- not the 12% gain available from a “clean sheet” design, but still hugely significant if it’s applied across an entire airline fleet, for example.

It’s all very neat and advanced, of course … but if you’ve ever been to the National Air and Space Museum, FlexSys’ wing might seem a bit familiar.

If you can’t place it, let me spoil it for you: the Wright Brothers used a similar “flexing wing” on their historic first flight at Kitty Hawk way back in 1903. Here’s a quick video from FlexSys, below, that pays tribute to that age-old design, and goes into more detail about how the new-age FlexFoil was built. Enjoy!


Source | Photos: FlexSys, via Gizmag.

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About the Author

I've been involved in motorsports and tuning since 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the Important Media network. You can find me on Twitter, Skype (jo.borras) or Google+.

  • Aviator

    Flap and gap seals will give you most of this improvement at a considerably lower cost and using the wings already on the aircraft. There’s no net fuel saving because the decreased drag allows a higher cruise speed at the same fuel consumption, and higher cruise speeds mean more aircraft utilization (more revenue hours per day). Anything that increases the number of revenue hours per day will be welcomed, if it also saves some fuel, that’s a bonus, but the goal is maximizing aircraft utilization.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Replacing the wings of existing airplanes is an interesting idea. While engines wear out and get replaced, typically with a small increase in efficiency each time these days, actual airframes last a long time since they’re mostly aluminium and don’t rust and so it certainly could be worthwhile to replace the wings on a long haul jet that might have another 25 years of life ahead of it.

    • Jimbo

      Ronald worthwhile come on, Why don’t get people just stop flying all together? you gain 100% reduction in efficiency and Co2 emission.

      Do you think Liberal, Labor and the greens cut back on airplanes trips because of climate change.
      Sydney airport over 39 million people departures for last year 2013, no sign of carbon reduction by airplanes.

      • A Real Libertarian


        Your comment wasn’t like that before.

      • Peter Gray

        Is this one of your followers, Ronald? Yikes!

  • JamesWimberley

    Anne McCaffrey’s 1969 SF novel “The Ship Who Sang” features an intelligent cyborg starship with a flexible envelope.

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