Airbus Seeks More Performance and Efficiency From Wings

 - September 23, 2021, 11:45 AM
Airbus's Wing of Tomorrow program is one of two research and development efforts aimed at improving the efficiency and performance of aircraft wings. (Image: Airbus)

Airbus this week confirmed it has been working on what it calls an “extra-performing wing” that will be able to adapt its shape, span, and surface during flight. The completely new design of the wing aims to generate additional operating efficiencies and reduce fuel burn and carbon dioxide emissions. A scaled demonstrator integrated on a Cessna Citation VII business jet is scheduled to fly by the middle of the decade, Airbus chief technical officer Sabine Klauke said during the company’s sustainability summit at its Toulouse headquarters.

The project is running in tandem with Airbus's Wing of Tomorrow (WoT) research program, which focuses on exploring new materials, new technologies in aerodynamics and wing architecture, and how wing manufacturing and industrialization can be improved to meet future demand. The extra-performance wing demonstrator project focuses on accelerating and validating technologies that will improve and optimize wing aerodynamics and performance for any future aircraft. The two projects are "completely complementary,” stressed Klauke, noting they both contribute to the company’s decarbonization roadmap.

“Airbus is continuously investigating parallel and complementary solutions such as infrastructure, flight operations, and aircraft structure,” she said. The extra-performing wing technologies are inspired by biomimicry, simulating the wings and feathers of a soaring eagle. Various technology bricks will be investigated to enable the active control of the new wing, including gust sensors, pop-up spoilers or plates that are rapidly deflected perpendicular to airflow, multifunctional trailing edges that dynamically change wing surface in flight, and a semi-aeroelastic hinge.

The projected efficiency gains of the extra-performing wing should be “as revolutionary as the Sharklets,” Klauke asserted. “We are really targeting the same kind of improvement levels, even more.” According to Airbus, its Sharklet large wingtip devices deliver at least 3.5 percent reduced fuel burn over longer sectors on the A320 family models. The applications of the extra-performing wing would be compatible with any propulsion solution and aircraft configuration, Airbus noted.

Meanwhile, the European aerospace group’s WoT program reached a “key milestone” this week with the assembly of its first full-size wing prototype, Klauke said. She described the program, which is part-funded by the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute and involves global partners and teams across Airbus’ European sites, as “an example of how large-scale industry collaboration will be critical to achieving our sector’s agenda for a more sustainable future.” 

Britain’s multi-technology tier one aerospace supplier GKN Aerospace delivered the wing’s composite fixed trailing edge from its UK-based global technology center at Bristol to Airbus’s wing-production plant in Broughton. “The manufacturing of the first composite fixed trailing edge under the WoT program is a great achievement,” said John Pritchard, GKN’s civil airframe president. “We are proud to be on board of Airbus’ WoT research program. The manufacturing of lighter, stronger, and low maintenance composite wing structures will contribute to the sustainability goals of the aerospace industry and help shape the future of flight.”