Dubai Air Show

A380 incubator hatches a brood of technologies

 - November 6, 2007, 7:19 AM

All jetliners might look alike to anyone who thinks that an airplane is an airplane is an airplane. And, yes, to the casual observer there is great similarity between Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s, and much in common between A330s and 777s. Even the mighty new A380, with its low, swept wings and four underslung engines, follows established trends apart from a full-length upper deck–and that also has been tried before.

But look under the skin and Airbus will quickly point out many unique features for which the European manufacturer has filed patent applications. During development of the quad-aisle quadjet, Airbus made more than (appropriately enough) 380 such filings, all related to technological developments for use on the A380. Since the program was launched nearly seven years ago in December 2000, Airbus says it has put the new technologies through rigorous testing.

The manufacturer has identified aerodynamics, aircraft systems, cabin design, engine integration, flight controls, manufacturing methods and wide-scale use of advanced lightweight composite materials among A380 attributes for which it has registered a claim to intellectual property rights.

Among the novel characteristics for which it has filed patent applications is the “zero splice” inlet that Airbus has integrated into the A380’s engine nacelles. Fashioned as a single 360-degree piece of composite material–rather than a spliced fabrication of multiple individual panels–it is said to contribute significantly to the A380’s “very low” noise emissions.

Airbus claims another industry first with its extensive use of lightweight carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic for the large elements of the A380’s primary airframe structure. The manufacturer also has patented a new process developed to produce “the world’s first” carbon-fiber composites center wing-box for a commercial aircraft. About a quarter of the A380 structure is made of composites, which Airbus estimates has saved almost 15 tons, thus contributing to reduced fuel consumption and low noise levels.

The European airframer has filed patent applications for new systems on the aircraft, including the avionics data communication network, which supports the A380’s higher inter-system communication needs with improved data integrity and faster transmission. Airbus sees the “brake-to-vacate” function, which optimizes energy use in braking to reduce time spent on the runway, while ensuring higher levels of passenger comfort, as a significant breakthrough in systems technology.

It has made other patent applications covering the electrical back-up hydraulic actuator, part of the A380’s new dual-energy, four-channel flight-controls architecture.

Conventional commercial aircraft flight control systems use three hydraulic channels, but the A380 offers improved performance and reliability via its dual-energy (electrical and hydraulic) power source, which also saves weight by suppressing one hydraulic circuit.

Airbus is planning to continue development of the patented technologies through the A380’s service life and already has adopted some for the upcoming A350 XWB twin-aisle twinjet.