Two NASA experiments designed to help reduce fuel consumption and emissions will fly this spring on a specially outfitted Boeing 757 airplane called the ecoDemonstrator. One includes 31 small devices that will blow jets of air on the vertical tail, and the other involves non-stick coatings to help repel bugs from the leading edge of wings. Both are designed to improve the air flow over the surface and ultimately reduce drag.

Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator 757 aircraft. (NASA)

The Active Flow Control Enhanced Vertical Tail Flight Experiment involves 31 tiny jets installed on the ecoDemonstrator that can manipulate, on demand, the air that flows over the plane’s vertical tail and rudder surfaces. Engineers theorize they could reduce the size of the vertical tail by using the sweeping jets to generate the same side force during takeoff and landing that a larger tail does. That would reduce the weight and drag of the airplane and decrease its fuel consumption.

In another set of flight tests near Shreveport, LA, NASA is assessing how well five different coatings repel insect residue in an experiment called Insect Accretion and Mitigation. Bug remains may be a nuisance on cars, but on some airplane designs, they are also a drag, quite literally. Studies have shown that keeping the flow smooth, called laminar, over a wing can reduce fuel consumption as much as six percent.

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