The Structural Suitability of Tensegrity Aircraft Wings

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.S. in Mechanical Engineering


Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Renewable and Clean Energy


Advisor: David Myszka


This thesis presents an investigation of the suitability of tensegrity aircraft wing concepts and compares their simulated structural performance to a baseline conventional wing structure. Tensegrity systems, which consist of arrangements of struts and cables, are appealing for their structural efficiency, enabling lightweight structures with each member loaded in tension or compression. Of specific interest, tensegrity systems may provide a pathway to morphing aircraft structures through the actuation of cables. The present study compares two tensegrity-based wing designs to the aluminum Van's RV-4 aircraft rib/spar wing structure, chosen as the baseline performance case. Aerodynamic loading conditions are derived which simulate a 2g pullup maneuver and a 1g pushover, intended to interrogate the structures under characteristic positive and negative loading. The first tensegrity concept, developed with design judgment, is configured by merging known unit cells and is shown to yield deflections and strain energies comparable to the conventional wing at a fraction of its weight. The second tensegrity design, in contrast, is developed by application of a topology optimization algorithm, intended to minimize the weight with maximum stress and strain energy constraints. The topology-optimized wing has similar structural performance at slightly less weight than the designer-developed tensegrity wing. Additionally, a scaled down physical prototype of the designer-developed tensegrity wing was designed and fabricated, providing valuable insight into practical hurdles of tensegrity construction.


Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Engineering, tensegrity structures, aerospace structures, tensegrity, topology optimization, mixed integer linear, programming, ground structure, prototype, aircraft, wings, vans RV-4, FEA, stiffness, tension, compression, equilibrium, flight, stress, cables, struts

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