The prime factors in determining overall airplane usefulness-that is, its range, endurance, and maneuverability, are the aerodynamic, propulsive, and structural efficiencies. Specialists concerned with these disciplines are continually striving to increase the efficiencies in order to provide larger returns on investment for commercial application, and superiority over opponents in the case of military aircraft.
Advances in aerodynamics, with potential for structural weight reductions, are the subject for present consideration. Supercritical aerodynamics, which deals with flow fields where local speeds are greater than the speed of sound, has provided a means whereby cruise flight speeds can be significantly increased to near-sonic conditions or where considerably thicker wings, with the attendant increased useable volume and decreased wing weights, can be utilized without sacrificing cruise speeds. It is this latter case that is the specific subject of the present discussion.
To provide proof-of-concept flight data on the thick supercritical wing, the U.S. Navy, NASA, and NR-C have teamed up to conduct a series of flight tests on a modified Navy T2-C Buckeye trainer aircraft. The novel method of airplane modification, generalized qualitative results, and some potential applications are presented in terms that can be appreciated by all engineering backgrounds.