Airbus engineers have developed a scale-model
aeroplane with the first in-flight, flapping wing-tips that could revolutionise aircraft wing-design.
The aerospace giant has
drawn on nature to develop its ‘semi-aeroelastic hinge’ concept to
reduce drag and overall wing weight, while combating the effects
of turbulence and wind gusts.
Known as AlbatrossOne, the
remote-controlled aircraft has already taken its first flights to
prove the concept and the team will now conduct further testing
before the demonstrator, based on the manufacturer’s A321 plane,
is scaled-up 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,” explained Airbus engineer
Tom Wilson, based in Filton, England. “We 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 manoeuvering is required. The
AlbatrossOne model will explore the benefits of unlockable,
freely-flapping wing-tips – accounting for a 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 wing 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
The first test flights of the AlbatrossOne
demonstrator, developed by Airbus engineers in Filton, were
concluded in February after a 20-month development programme.
Speaking in Toulouse, Dumont said AlbatrossOne was the “first
Filton aircraft since Concorde”.
It has been constructed from
carbonfibre and glassfibre-reinforced polymers, as well as
components from additive-layer manufacturing.
of AlbatrossOne has examined the demonstrator’s stability with the
wing-tips locked and completely unlocked, said fellow Filton
engineer James Kirk. “The next step is to conduct further tests
to combine the two modes, allowing the wing-tips to unlock during
flight and to examine the transition,” he added.
presented their research at the International Forum on
Aeroelasticity and Structural Dynamics conference in the United
States this week.