Bug Guts and Aerodynamics

Admittedly, the people in this picture are not working on an automobile.

Admittedly, the people in this picture are not working on an automobile. Or even a truck.

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(Photo: NASA/Paul Bagby)

Rather, it is the wing of an airplane. Specifically, the wing of the Boeing ecoDemonstrator 757.

And they don’t work for a car company, either.

The woman on the left, Mia Siochi, is a NASA materials scientist. The man in the middle is Mike Alexander from NASA’s Langley Research Center. And the man on the right is Felix Boyett, a Boeing technician.

But they are dealing with a problem that is associated with cars and trucks as well as aircraft:

Bug guts.

In the case of things like aircraft, the bug guts aren’t simply unsightly, but they create drag. Increased drag means increased fuel consumption.

So they are working on developing non-stick wing coatings that will shed insect residue.

This is part of the Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project.

They’ve tested five coating/surface combinations.

According to Fay Collier, ERA project manager, “There is still a lot of research to be done, but early data indicated on coating had about a 40% reduction in bug counts and residue compared to a control surface mounted next to it.”

Explained Mia Siochi, “Laminar aircraft wings are designed to be aerodynamically efficient. If you have bugs accumulating, it causes the airflow to rip from smooth or laminar to turbulent, causing additional drag.”

Yes, bug guts can make a difference.

Because most flying insects fly close to the ground, they tested the coatings by having the ecoDemonstrator take off and land multiple times from the Shreveport Regional Airport in Louisiana because of the number of bugs in the area.

While bug guts might not be a big issue in terms of the aerodynamic performance of a car or truck, they certainly are when it comes to appearance.

Ever wonder why the guts are so difficult to get off a fascia or windshield?

The NASA researchers figured it out.

Siochi said, “We learned when a bug hits and its body ruptures, the blood starts undergoing some chemical changes to make it stickier.”

More work needs to be done as part of the NASA project. Here’s hoping that the results find their way into something from Turtle Wax or Mothers.