Build a tiny plane, cover it in fluorescent oil, and use the results to improve the design of future air-based transport.
That's what researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., hope to achieve with a toy-size model of a hybrid plane. The image above shows a 5.8 percent scale model of a futuristic hybrid wing body, coated in fluorescent oil before being blasted with air.
The team sent the hybrid plane through a 14x22-foot subsonic wind tunnel to "see" and document the patterns of air flowing over and around the model.
While a vast amount of data can be recorded by viewing the movement of a plane with the naked eye, using oil helps researchers view minute details and tweak designs with more precision. By documenting lift and drag in this manner, NASA hopes to improve the aerodynamics of future planes.
The space agency has been pushing research to improve flight efficiency in recent years. As an example, NASA and aircraft carrier Boeing have formed a partnership to improve the flight of craft in space and more efficiently transport crew to and from the International Space Station.
This story originally appeared on SmartPlanet.