NASA is Designing a Plane Coating to Slough Off Bugs

NASA/Paul Bagby
NASA/Paul Bagby / NASA/Paul Bagby

Little bugs can turn into big problems for jets. When dead bugs accumulate on the body and wings of an airplane, it disrupts what’s called laminar flow, the smooth movement of the air across the surface of the plane. This, in turn, causes turbulence and drag, increasing the amount of fuel necessary to fly. 

For years, NASA’s bug team has been trying to find a way to combat insect-induced drag on aircraft. They even shoot bugs through a wind tunnel at 150 mph to mimic the effects of take off and landing. Most recently, the Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) Project tested five different non-stick wing coats on planes taking off and landing at an airport in Shreveport, La., where bugs are plentiful. 

There’s a reason insects stick to high-speed vehicles like cars and planes. When a bug goes splat against a surface at high velocity, its blood actually gets tackier. “We learned when a bug hits and its body ruptures the blood starts undergoing some chemical changes to make it stickier," Mia Siochi, a senior materials scientist with NASA, explains in a press statement. "That's basically the survival mechanism for the bug."

The new anti-bug coatings are designed to mimic a lotus leaf, which features microscopic rough, pointy patches that keep liquid from spreading out and sticking to the surface. One coating reduced the number of bugs splattered across the right wing of the test plane by 40 percent. Goodbye, bug guts! Now, when do we get this for windshields? 

[h/t: Washington Post]