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Winging toward perpetual flight

The long road toward building a self-powered, gliding aircraft that can remain in the air indefinitely -- perpetual flight -- has reached a new milestone. The first uniquely-designed carbon fiber wing has emerged from Lehigh's Composites Lab, an important step in a project led by mechanical engineer Joachim Grenestedt and computer scientist John Spletzer.

The 6.5 m (21.3 ft) wing was made in a single molding process, complete with wing planks, spar caps to carry bending moment and provide bending stiffness, six internal webs to carry shear loads and a trailing edge ready to accommodate wing flaps and ailerons. The entire wing is made from thin layers of carbon fiber (0.6 mm thick) configured into complex geometric shapes and placed layer by layer in molds digitally designed and machined at Lehigh. The resulting wing has stronger-than-steel performance.

The project has captured attention from media outlets such as CompositesWorld, DesignNews, and Unmanned Systems Technology, as well as the Lehigh University News Center. If successful, the final craft could alter the way humans launch satellite communications, monitor weather and conduct surveillance. The multi-year project is funded by the National Science Foundation and Lehigh University.

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Grenested and wing

Joachim Grenestedt with the UAV wing