NASA is set to begin a series of supersonic flights that will examine efforts to improve the efficiency of future supersonic aircraft. Future supersonic aircraft seeking to achieve a low boom will rely on a swept wing design in order to fly at supersonic speeds without producing a loud sonic boom. The swept wing design generally produces airflow disturbances that run along the span of the wing, resulting in turbulent flow, increased drag, and ultimately, higher fuel consumption.

Testing different configurations of distributed roughness elements on the Swept Wing Laminar Flow test article, seen suspended above, will allow NASA researchers to observe which distributions are most efficient in extending laminar flow over a supersonic aircraft’s wing. (NASA Photo/Ken Ulbrich)

The swept wing efforts continue previous NASA research performed between 1988 and 1996. Those tests investigated the use of suction to maintain laminar flow using slots, perforations, and porous titanium material under the surface of the wing. If successful, the dots are a much simpler solution.