AFRL Proves Feasibility of Plasma Actuators
by Plans and Programs Directorate

6/6/2006 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- AFRL is laying the groundwork to develop revolutionary hypersonic aerospace vehicles. Researchers are examining the feasibility of replacing traditional mechanical actuators, which move like wing flaps to control an air vehicle's flight control surfaces, with plasma actuators that require no moving parts and are more reliable. 
As part of its Boundary Layers and Hypersonics program, AFRL conducted a wind tunnel test to evaluate the feasibility of using plasma actuators for airframe flight control. The Boundary Layers and Hypersonics program is developing the knowledge of fluid physics to facilitate future revolutionary aerospace vehicle designs. The program focuses on characterizing, predicting, and controlling high-speed fluid dynamics phenomena, including boundary layer transition; shock/boundary layer and shock/shock interactions; and other airframe propulsion integration phenomena, such as real-gas effects, plasma aerodynamics, magnetohydrodynamics, and high-speed flow heat transfer. 
In AFRL's Mach 5 Plasma Channel wind tunnel, engineers used a strong electric field to ionize air around an air vehicle model to create plasma. This wind tunnel relies upon a vacuum system to generate low-density airflows. High electrical voltage applied between metal electrodes on a model in the plasma channel ionizes the air between the electrodes and creates plasma, a state of matter in which electrons are stripped from molecules. Man-made plasma usually exists at the extreme temperatures and pressures common to the conditions within a star or around an in-flight hypersonic vehicle, but man-made plasma is also present in items such as fluorescent lightbulbs and computer screen plasma displays. In AFRL's tests, the plasma-heated air successfully exerted force on the model and demonstrated that the plasma actuator concept is a viable area for further study and development.

AFRL Proves Feasibility of Plasma Actuators
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