Airbus has developed a scale-model aircraft with flapping wing-tips that aim to reduce drag and wing weight, while combating the effects of turbulence.
The remote-controlled AlbatrossOne has a ‘semi-aeroelastic hinge’ which allows the wing-tips to move freely in-flight.
The aircraft is based on the A321, with adaptions inspired by its feathered namesake, which “locks its wings at the shoulder for long-distance soaring but unlocks them when wind-gusts occur or manoeuvering is required,” explained Airbus engineer Tom Wilson.
It is built from carbonfibre, glassfibre-reinforced polymers, and components from additive-layer manufacturing.
Further tests will take place before the demonstrator is scaled-up. The project has already been in development for 20 months.
“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,” Wilson said.
“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, added: “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 exploit.”
Airbus is marking its 50th anniversary with various events this month, including a formation flight with its commercial jetliner family, which includes the A220, A320, A330, A350 XWB and A380.
It is expected to launch a longer-range version of its single-aisle A321 jet at next week’s Paris Air Show.