The Michigan Engineer News Center

Morphing wing

Today Michigan engineers are revisiting the idea of the morphing wing using a multifunctional system of composite lightweight materials and integrated actuators.| Short Read

When the Wright Brothers first flew more than 100 years ago, they utilized a twisting wing to stabilize their plane. As aircraft design became more heavy duty, that system became impossible. Rigid wings controlled by flaps have been the mainstay for modern aviation. Today Michigan engineers are revisiting the idea of the morphing wing using a multifunctional system of composite lightweight materials and integrated actuators. Dan Inman, Professor and Department Chair of Aerospace Engineering predicts that morphing technology would first appear in unmanned drones and cargo vehicles. Even then, it may still be decades away.

Michigan Aerospace engineers are using new materials and techniques to allow airplane wings to flex and move more like bird wings. Instead of traditional flaps, they are designing wings that can morph based on an electrical inputs. These morphing wings are still in the developing stages but may open the doors to lighter weight aircraft that are more agile than traditional airplanes.

About the Professor

EnlargePortrait of Daniel Inman. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering.
IMAGE:  Daniel Inman. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering.

Dan Inman is active in research involving smart materials and structures as applied to morphing aircraft, energy harvesting, structural health monitoring and clearance control in jet engines. He currently has projects in cube satellite actuators, electronic damping, avian inspired morphing aircraft and energy harvesting. Formerly he was the Director of the Center for Intelligent Material Systems and Structures and the G.R. Goodson Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech and the Brunel Chair in Intelligent Materials and Structures at the University of Bristol, UK. A former Department Chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, State University of New York at Buffalo, he has held adjunct positions in the Division of Applied Math at Brown University and in math at the University of Southern California. Since 1980, he has published 10 books (on vibration, energy harvesting, control, statics, and dynamics), eight software manuals, 20 book chapters, over 300 journal papers and 600 proceedings papers, given 61 keynote or plenary lectures, graduated 62 Ph.D. students and supervised more than 75 MS degrees.

Portrait of Daniel Inman. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering.
Portrait of Kim Johnson


Kimberly Johnson
Communications Manager

Aerospace Engineering

(734) 647-4701

3054 FXB

The electrons absorb laser light and set up “momentum combs” (the hills) spanning the energy valleys within the material (the red line). When the electrons have an energy allowed by the quantum mechanical structure of the material—and also touch the edge of the valley—they emit light. This is why some teeth of the combs are bright and some are dark. By measuring the emitted light and precisely locating its source, the research mapped out the energy valleys in a 2D crystal of tungsten diselenide. Credit: Markus Borsch, Quantum Science Theory Lab, University of Michigan.

Mapping quantum structures with light to unlock their capabilities

Rather than installing new “2D” semiconductors in devices to see what they can do, this new method puts them through their paces with lasers and light detectors. | Medium Read