TEES researcher and industry partners work toward certification of aircraft morphing applications

Shape Memory Alloy Group

Since the 1960s, researchers around the world have been looking for ways to employ the unique properties of active materials such as shape memory alloys (SMAs) for the development of morphing aerospace structures. Dr. Darren Hartl, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) research assistant professor, teamed with James Mabe of the Boeing Company last summer and fall to organize a collaborative effort through TEES’ Aerospace Vehicle Systems Institute (AVSI) to solve this issue in a unified way.

The project is co-funded by a number of industrial and federal proponents of SMA technologies who are applying their joint technical expertise to the development of standardized experimental methods that have not existed to date. 

Boeing has completed multiple full-scale flight tests of such solutions, and the benefits of these technologies have been successfully demonstrated repeatedly. However, the path to production of both military and commercial aerospace morphing applications has been hindered by the lack of a standardized approach toward testing and certification. 

“The goal is to develop experimental methods that are both technically effective and universally accepted," said Hartl. "The participation of researchers from seven organizations spanning five countries tells me that we are headed in the right direction.”

This first SMA actuator standardization effort includes the funded participation of industrial partners ATI Specialty Metals, Boeing, Embraer, Rafael Defense Systems, Rolls-Royce and SAES Getters, as well as the participation of NASA researchers.

The kick-off meeting associated with this effort was held in College Station, Texas, in early December. A series of events on the Texas A&M campus allowed the industrial and government visitors to assess the various SMA research efforts being performed in the aerospace engineering and material science and engineering departments. Focused meetings held at TEES state headquarters allowed for technical discussion and debate and the initial drafting of the first experimental standards. 

“AVSI is at the center of something important here," said Hartl. "I believe in the idea of SMA-enabled morphing aircraft, but now is the time to move these concepts out of the laboratory and into production. We have assembled the right team, and we are going to make this happen.”

Front row, from left: Frank Sczerzenie, SAES Smart Materials; Frederick Calkins, Boeing; and Royi Padan, Rafael Defense Systems. Back row, from left: Brian Van Doren, ATI Specialty Metals; Darren Hartl, AVSI; Ron Noebe, NASA-Glenn; Othman Benafan, NASA-Glenn; James Mabe, Boeing; Andrea Cadelli, SAES Getters; and Bryce Conduit, Rolls-Royce.