Airbus Expands Flapping Wings Test


Airbus continues to test wing extensions that “flap” in response to rough air and mimic the way an albatross essentially lets its wings go with the flow to remain airborne almost effortlessly. The bird can unlock its shoulders to do that but Airbus’ adaptation is necessarily more complex. In the airplane an extended section of the wings is free to flap while in cruise but can be made rigid for takeoff and climb. The wings also fold up to allow airport maneuvering. The latest test, on a big RC model, tested all those systems in a “gate-to-gate” demonstration.

Airbus has named the project AlbatrossONE and Chief Engineer James Kirk said the payoff is in more efficient designs. “Semi-aeroelastic hinged wing-tips enable an aircraft to ‘surf’ through wind gusts without transferring the bending loads (i.e. external load that produces bending stresses within a body) to the main wing,” Kirk told Simple Flying. “This means we require less material, such as carbon-fibre-reinforced polymers, to make the wing strong enough to withstand the gust loads, thus reducing the weight of the aircraft.” Airbus says that by letting the wings flap a little, it can put much longer wings on its future planes without any weight gain, increasing efficiency and lowering carbon emissions. 

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Going to be interesting to see if anything comes of this. There was an aftermarket “flapping wing” mod offered for some Cessna singles back in the early 1980s – was designed to smooth the ride in turbulence. Never saw any airplanes equipped with it. Don’t know what happened to it.

  2. I remember the voyage around the world flight also had flexible wings so as to minimize structure. If I remember correctly, it made those on board quite nauseous when it entered turbulence…