Insects Can Be A Drag

Insects stuck to an airplane

Insect debris stuck to an airplane.
Photo: Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt

Airplanes are designed to allow air to smoothly flow over the wing surfaces and minimize turbulence. In warm weather, clouds of insects can surround airports and collide with planes during takeoff and landing. The impact disrupts the insect cuticle releasing hemolymph that coagulates and glues insects to the airplane’s surface. The dead insects change the shapes of the surfaces of wings and other aircraft parts so that they no longer minimize turbulence and drag, the friction between the air and the airplane. Increased drag subtracts from a plane’s forward movement an increases fuel usage and costs.

NASA has been testing a variety of coatings to prevent insects from sticking to airplanes. Initial tests were done in wind tunnels, with large numbers of small insects, mostly Drosophila flies that can be mass reared. NASA is now ready for field testing and has selected “insect infested” Shreveport, LA as a test site. NASA will establish a “Bug Baseline” during flights with uncoated airplanes. They will then test 5 coatings that made the final cut.

The plane is supplied by Boeing Aircraft, which is looking for information that can cut the fuel use of their products and give a compeitive advantage. The plane will gather information on how the size and location of insect strikes affects fuel efficiency. The NASA findings on coatings will be public information.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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