Airbus Looks To Nature: Tests Floppy Wing Tips

It seems as though bending the end of your wings is the next big craze. Indeed, Boeing has created wingtips that fold to save space for the Boeing 777X. However, it seems Airbus wants a piece of the pie. The European manufacturer is testing out floppy wing tips on a model aircraft named AlbatrossOne.

Airbus Floppy Wingtips AlbatrossOne
Airbus is testing a new design featuring floppy wing tips. Photo: Airbus

The AlbatrossOne demonstrator is so called due to the way it is modelled on the bird’s wings, in part. Airbus has been testing the model since February, however, only announced it to the world yesterday. The model was built at the Airbus plant in Bristol, United Kingdom.

Leaning on nature

The floppy wing-tip design leans on nature for inspiration. Airbus states that military aircraft already employ foldable wing tips. This is in order to save space onboard aircraft carriers. However, Boeing is also applying this principle on their Boeing 777X, meaning that the longer wing can be accommodated at airports without modification.

However, these are typically locked during flight. Airbus’ principle being tested see the wingtips being unlocked during the flight. The concept is based on the “semi-aeroelastic hinge”, an idea stolen from nature.

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Airbus Floppy Wingtips AlbatrossOne
The model aircraft took 20 months to develop in Bristol. Photo: Airbus

The concept sees wing stress decreased when they are unlocked. Wings are fairly rigid structures, meaning that significant reinforcement is needed at the wing root. However, with the floppy wingtips, when the aircraft encountered turbulence, the wings could flex and dissipate the force.

Airbus’ VP of Engineering, Jean-Brice Dumont, said: “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.”

A321 model

The model being tested by Airbus is based on the A321. While currently only a small remote-controlled representation, the European manufacturer is hoping that the concept can be scaled up to a full-sized demonstrator. It took Airbus 20 months of development to reach the point of having a flying model.

Additionally, the model was constructed at the Airbus Filton site in Bristol. As a matter of fact, the aircraft was the first constructed on the site since the days of Concorde. The model was made from lightweight materials, including carbon fibre and glass fibre-reinforced polymers.

Airbus Floppy Wingtips
Could the technology be applied to an aircraft like this? Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Airbus has now tested the aircraft with the wings locked for the entire flight as well as unlocked for the entire flight. The logical next step for Airbus is to try and combine the two during a complete flight. It is currently unclear what the remaining time frame on this is.

What do you think of Airbus’ innovative floppy wing design? Let us know in the comments

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