Airbus Is Using Freely Flapping Wingtips to Combat Turbulence

Jun 15, 2019

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Airbus is looking to a long-distance flyer in nature to help combat the effects of turbulence and wind gusts in a new airplane. The company has unveiled AlbatrossOne, which has a wing-tip design based on the body of the albatross.

According to Airbus engineer Tom Wilson, the company “drew inspiration from nature — the albatross marine bird locks its wings at the shoulder for long-distance soaring but unlocks them when wind gusts occur or maneuvering is required.” The functional model is based on the manufacturer’s A321.

According to a company release, the Airbus demonstrator is the first aircraft to go to inflight trials. Its wing tips, remote-controlled during the testing, can flap freely to relieve the effects of wind gusts and turbulence. Eventually, the aircraft is expected to react autonomously during inflight turbulence and lessen the load on the wing at its base, thus reducing the need for heavily reinforced wing boxes.

The net benefits should include happier passengers, fewer seatbelt signs, a safer environment for the crew to serve food and beverages and a boost in fuel efficiency.

Airbus engineers have developed a scale-model plane, AlbatrossOne, with the first inflight, flapping wing tips. (Photo courtesy of Airbus)

Initial testing of AlbatrossOne has examined the demonstrator’s stability with the wing tips locked and completely unlocked, while future tests will combine the two modes, allowing the wing tips to unlock during flight and studying how well the transition goes.

The industry at large is embracing the challenge to combat turbulence and reduce fuel burn. Earlier in 2019, rival Boeing introduced a revised Transonic Truss-Braced Wing (TTBW) concept to achieve similar results. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines has devised its own iPad app for pilots, allowing them to forecast and dodge expected turbulence, while saving fuel all the while.

Boeing is also testing a folding wing tip design, this one to help the aircraft fit into smaller spaces.

Featured image courtesy of Airbus. 

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