Air Force fellowship is for the birds
MechSE Assistant Professor Aimy Wissa will be spending eight weeks at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ohio, this summer.
Wissa and one of her graduate students, Josiah Waite, will be traveling as part of the Air Force Summer Faculty Fellowship Program, where she will work with specialists on a project to improve the ability of existing unmanned air vehicles to operate in complex flight conditions, such as gust and high-angle-of-attack maneuvers.
“The project we’re working on is how we design feather-inspired deployable structures for unmanned aerial vehicles,” Wissa said. “Small-scale unmanned vehicles are really good because they’re relatively cheap, and we can fly them in dirty, dull, and dangerous operations. However, they don’t fly really well when compared to natural flyers that operate in similar conditions.”
Her planned improvements are inspired by birds’ feathers known as the covert feathers, which give the wings their shape. When flying in a situation with an adverse pressure gradient such as high-angles-of-attack-maneuvers or in strong winds, covert feathers deploy and create a barrier or a dam to help keep the bird in flight by preventing the flow from completely separating from the surface.
During her fellowship, Wissa will work with specialists in optimization, mechanism design, and modeling to integrate the concept into unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Wissa selected the Wright-Patterson location because its experts have experience in morphing wings and adaptive structures.
Her work has both civilian and military applications. UAVs could be used for intelligence, surveillance, and recon missions, or for crop surveying and helping first responders.
“If you are using an unmanned vehicle, you want it to be reliable and you want it to be mission-adaptable, meaning one that can take off, land, cruise, hover, and perch—and does so efficiently.” Wissa said. “Bio-inspired deployable structures will help small-scale unmanned air vehicles get one step closer to their natural counterparts.”
Here at Illinois, Wissa is the director of the Bio-inspired Adaptive Morphology (BAM) Lab. She and her team have two other bird-inspired projects in the works. One involves analyzing the characteristics of adaptive wing tip devices on airplane wings that save airlines fuel and money. The other, in collaboration with MechSE Assistant Professor Leonardo Chamorro, is focused on investigating the addition of an alula-inspired structure (a thumb-like part on a bird) to planes’ wings that would expand the aircraft’s flight envelope.