Optimal Design and Analysis of Bio-inspired, Curvilinearly Stiffened Composite Flexible Wings

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Virginia Tech


Large-aspect-ratio wings and composite structures both have been considered for the next-generation civil transport aircraft to achieve improved aerodynamic efficiency and to save aircraft structural weight. The use of the large-aspect-ratio and the light-weight composite wing can lead to an enhanced flexibility of the aircraft wing, which may cause many aeroelastic problems such as large deflections, increased drag, onset of flutter, loss of control authority, etc. Aeroelastic tailoring, internal structural layout design and aerodynamic wing shape morphing are all considered to address these aeroelastic problems through multidisciplinary design, analysis and optimization (MDAO) studies in this work.

Performance Adaptive Aeroelastic Wing (PAAW) program was initiated by NASA to leverage the flexibility associated with the use of the large-aspect-ratio wings and light-weight composite structures in a beneficial way for civil transport aircraft wing design. The biologically inspired SpaRibs concept is used for aircraft wing box internal structural layout design to achieve the optimal stiffness distribution to improve the aircraft performance. Along with the use of the active aeroelastic wing concept through morphing wing shape including the wing jig-shape, the control surface rotations and the aeroelastic tailoring scheme using composite laminates with ply-drop for wing skin design, a MDAO framework, which has the capabilities in total structural weight minimization, total drag minimization during cruise, ground roll distance minimization in takeoff and load alleviation in various maneuver loads by morphing its shape, is developed for designing models used in the PAAW program.

A bilevel programming (BLP) multidisciplinary design optimization (MDO) architecture is developed for the MDAO framework. The upper-level optimization problem entails minimization of weight, drag and ground roll distance, all subjected to both static constraints and the global dynamic requirements including flutter mode and free vibration modes due to the specified control law design for body freedom flutter suppression and static margin constraint. The lower-level optimization is conducted to minimize the total drag by morphing wing shape, to minimize wing root bending moment by scheduling flap rotations (a surrogate for weight reduction), and to minimize the takeoff ground roll distance. Particle swarm optimization and gradient-based optimization are used, respectively, in the upper-level and the lower-level optimization problems. Optimization results show that the wing box with SpaRibs can further improve the aircraft performances, especially in a large weight saving, as compared to the wing with traditional spars and ribs. Additionally, the nonuniform chord control surface associated with the wing with SpaRibs achieve further reductions in structural weight, total drag and takeoff ground roll distance for an improved aircraft performance.

For a further improvement of the global wing skin panel design, an efficient finite element approach is developed in designing stiffened composite panels with arbitrarily shaped stiffeners for buckling and vibration analyses. The developed approach allows the finite element nodes for the stiffeners and panels not to coincide at the panel-stiffeners interfaces. The stiffness, mass and geometric stiffness matrices for the stiffeners can be transformed to those for the panel through the displacement compatibility at their interfaces. The method improves the feasible model used in shape optimizing by avoiding repeated meshing for stiffened plate. Also, it reduces the order of the finite element model, a fine mesh typically associated with the skin panel stiffened by many stiffeners, for an efficient structural analysis. Several benchmark cases have been studied to verify the accuracy of the developed approach for stiffened composite panel structural analyses. Several parametric studies are conducted to show the influence of stiffener shape/placement/depth-ratio on panel's buckling and vibration responses. The developed approach shows a potential benefit of using gradient-based optimization for stiffener shape design.



SpaRibs, bilevel programming optimization, aeroelastic tailoring, active aeroelastic wing, curvilinearly stiffened composite panel