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.