FlexSys has been honored with a Tibbetts SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Award for Companies for its work with the US Small Business Association to get FlexSys technology in the air.
Changing the course of aviation history through SBIR is just what FlexSys, Inc. accomplished when it flew the world’s first shape changing aircraft wing. In 1998, company founder and the inventor of FlexFoilTM Variable Geometry Control Surfaces, Dr. Sridhar Kota received an Air Force SBIR Phase I contract to prototype and test an Adaptive Compliant Wing and in 2000, Kota received an Air Force SBIR Phase II contract to further demonstrate and test compliant design of shape-changing control surfaces. FlexSys was founded in 2001 to build and test various structural and wind tunnel models and encouraged by continuing success, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) provided enhancement funds under an SBIR Phase II. In 2006, FlexSys designed and fabricated a prototype wing section and affixed it to the underside of White Knight aircraft for extensive flight tests, which showed fuel efficiency improvements, and in 2009 AFRL funded an SBIR Phase III program to modify a Gulfstream-III research aircraft, replacing its conventional flaps with a FlexFoil™ Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE). NASA joined the AFRL-FlexSys team in 2009 for the final phase of the technology maturation, the flight test of ACTE.
On November 6, 2014, FlexSys, AFRL, and NASA achieved a milestone that the aviation industry has been attempting to reach for 50 years - FlexfoilTM ACTE technology finally proved that a practical, lightweight, seamless shape-morphing wing is possible. This invention is expected to save 4-12% in fuel costs in an industry that spends over $200 billion yearly on jet fuel, and where improvements of a mere 1% are considered significant. FlexFoil™ technology also eliminates gaps that produce airframe noise and, according to NASA, it is expected to reduce aircraft noise by 40%.
Funded by the Air Force SBIR program – (Phase I-1998, Phase 2 -2001-08, and Phase 3 -2009- 2015), totaling nearly $20 million, the technology has now matured to TRL 6+ ushering in a new frontier in aviation and enabling significant reductions in fuel burned, emissions, cost and noise. The company now has 7 full time and 5 part time employees with plans to hire two more fulltime employees this year. Dr. Sridhar Kota is also a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. FlexSys has actively engaged UM faculty through research contracts, provided part-time and full-time positions to UM students and has also licensed related technologies from UM.
About the Tibbetts Award
Named after Roland Tibbetts, who was instrumental in developing the SBIR program, the Tibbetts Awards are presented annually to those who are beacons of promise and models of excellence in high technology. Winners are selected based on the economic impact of their technological innovation, and the extent to which that innovation served federal R&D needs, encouraged diverse participation, and increased the commercialization of federal research. There are two types of Tibbetts Awards: awards for businesses that have participated in the SBIR Phase I and II award programs, and awards for individuals and organizations who have supported the SBIR Program.
More Information about the Tibbetts Award at SBIR.gov