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Airbus trials plane with flapping wing-tips

21/06/2019
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Drawing inspiration from the humble Albatross, Airbus has designed and trialled a revolutionary aircraft design which features flapping wing-tips which reduce drag and overall wing weight whilst also combating the effects of turbulence and wind gusts.

To test the new ‘semi-aeroelastic hinge’ concept, Airbus engineers have crafted a scale-model aeroplane called AlbatrossOne based on the company’s A321 and have been putting it through its paces. Should these initial tests prove successful, Airbus states that is will steadily scale-up the concept.
Airbus trials plane with flapping wing-tips
(Image via Airbus).

So far, so good. But you may be thinking, “where does Albatross inspiration come in?’. Well the answer lies in the birds’ ability to lock its wings at the shoulder for long-distance soaring but then unlocking them when wind-gusts occur or when manoeuvring is required. Airbus’ new design essentially mimics the function of the Albatross’ wings.

Tom Wilson, one of the Airbus engineers involved in the project, explains further:

“While hinged wing-tips are not new – military jets employ them to allow greater storage capacity on aircraft carriers – the Airbus demonstrator is the first aircraft to trial in-flight, freely-flapping wing-tips to relieve the effects of wind gusts and turbulence.”

“The AlbatrossOne model will explore the benefits of unlockable, freely-flapping wing tips – accounting for up to a third of the length of the wing – to react autonomously during in-flight turbulence and lessen the load on the wing at its base, so reducing the need for heavily reinforced wing boxes.”

Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus’ Executive Vice-President of Engineering, said the project showed “how nature can inspire us.” He said, “When there is a wind gust or turbulence, the wing of a conventional aircraft transmits huge loads to the fuselage, so the base of the wind must be heavily strengthened, adding weight to the aircraft. Allowing the wing-tips to react and flex to gusts reduces the loads and allows us to make lighter and longer wings – the longer the wing, the less drag it creates up to an optimum, so there are potentially more fuel efficiencies to exploit.”
Airbus has created a scale-model AlbatrossOne to test its new semi-aeroelastic hinge concept
(Image via Airbus).

The AlbatrossOne model has been constructed from carbonfibre and glassfibre-reinforced polymers, as well as components from additive-layer manufacturing. Initial testing of the plane has focused on its stability with the wing-tips locked and completely unlocked.

Next steps will involve testing the craft in the air during the transition between the two modes – that is, allowing the wing-tips to unlock during flight and examining the change.

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Tags: Engineering
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Airbus trials plane with flapping wing-tips - Time to read 3 min
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