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‘Smart metal’ gadget may reduce noise during takeoffs and landings

Four bicyclists watch as jet takes off at airport

Photo courtesy of Wikicommons

As any airline passenger or airport neighbor knows, commercial planes make a lot of noise. One cause is the leading-edge slat, a device attached to the front wings of most commercial aircraft. The slats allow aircraft to use shorter distances for taking off or landing. Unfortunately, they also create a lot of turbulence in the air, which translates into a deafening roar.

About a decade ago, engineers proposed a solution: a “slat-cove filler” designed to reduce noise by covering a structural cavity and other mechanisms that are part of the slat. But the idea proved impractical because the materials available at that time could not adjust to the slat’s movements as it made the transition from taking off to cruising to landing.

Now researchers at the Texas Institute for Intelligent Materials at Texas A&M University are collaborating with the NASA Langley Research Center to build a slat-cove filler that can adjust to the movements of the leading-edge slat.  The team has created a working bench-top model from shape-memory alloys, so-called “smart metals,” which can deform as needed before returning to their original shape.