Image of Artist’s Concept Wing-body Aircraft.
Artist’s concept of the integrated wing-body aircraft, enabled by the new construction method, being assembled by a group of specialized robots, shown in orange. (Image: Eli Gershenfeld, NASA Ames Research Center)

NASA built and tested a radically new kind of airplane wing assembled from hundreds of tiny identical pieces. It could provide a significant boost in aircraft production, flight, and maintenance efficiency. The flexible wing uses carbon fiber composite units arranged in a lattice pattern.

Instead of requiring separate movable surfaces such as ailerons to control the roll and pitch of the plane, the new system makes it possible to deform the whole wing, or parts of it, using computers integrated into the wing.