Shape-shifting wings to take to the skies? Airbus might have the answer

Reportedly, Airbus is now just a step closer to taking its “eXtra Performance Wing” demonstrator to the skies.
In what is touted to be a part of the company’s ongoing efforts to decarbonize aviation using state-of-the-art technology, the wing demonstrator recently completed wind-tunnel testing at the company’s Filton site.


Airbus eXtra Performance Wing

Launched last September, the eXtra Performance Wing builds on “AlbatrossOne” – a similar Airbus project which had engineers fly a scale-model airplane with flapping tips.

Albatross inspired flexible wing-tip demonstrator | Flight Global

The dynamics of the wings here are inspired by an albatross’s wings-they feature semi-aeroelastic hinges that respond to turbulence and gusts of wind. The hinges apparently reduce the load on the airframe, thereby slashing the need for reinforcing structures and hence saving considerable weight.

The eXtra Performance Wing demonstrator consists of a scaled-down Cessna Citation VII business jet that can be installed with gust sensors, pop-up spoilers that are rapidly deflected perpendicular to airflow and multifunctional trailing edges that dynamically change wing surface in-flight.

Cessna Citation | Representative | Autoevolution

The quest for sustainability and ways to enhance aircraft performance has often had aerospace engineers turn to nature, more specifically “bird flight”.

Various research projects featuring shape-shifting wings and others that demonstrate how designs inspired by owls could one day lead to models that could fly more quietly, more efficiently and be able to handle strong winds better.

Shape-shifting wing design | Representative | Airways Magazine

The applications of the extra-performing wing would be compatible with any propulsion solution and aircraft configuration and would reduce CO₂ emissions, contributing greatly to Airbus’ decarbonisation roadmap.

Airbus’ extra-performing wing demonstrator is another example of Airbus’ novel technology-oriented solutions to decarbonise the aviation sector.Airbus is continuously investigating parallel and complementary solutions such as infrastructure, flight operations and aircraft structure. With this demonstrator, we will make significant strides in active control technology through research and applied testing of various technologies inspired by biomimicry.

Sabine Klauke, Airbus Chief Technical Officer
Sabine Klauke | Airbus

The scaled demonstrator will integrate all the aforementioned technologies on the Cessna and for this, the model will be tested in a state-of-the-art low-speed wind tunnel at Filton, near Bristol.

This UK wing project, which spans 6 years since inception, is designed to bolster a production system capable of handling next-generation wings for future aircraft programmes like a mooted 2030s replacement of the best-selling A320/321 or an upgrade to the existing model

The partly 3D-printed wind-tunnel model – expertly built by the aerodynamics team at Airbus’ low-speed, wind-tunnel facility in Bristol – is a scaled-down version of the Cessna jet, incorporating the lightweight, long-span design of the eXtra Performance Wing that will provide the emissions benefits we are striving for.

Oliver Family, Head of eXtra Performance Wing, UK

“Wing design”, is a complex area that requires an optimum balance between weight and size to produce aerodynamically efficient wings. Interestingly, it is also an area where Airbus and Boeing seem to go at loggerheads with each other too.

The demonstrator is hosted within Airbus UpNext (Toulouse), a wholly-owned Airbus subsidiary created to give future technologies a development fast track by building demonstrators at speed and scale.



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