Airbus and partners commit to future laminar flow wing research

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The Airbus ‘Flight Lab’ aircraft, a modified A340-400 (Image: Airbus)

Airbus and several industrial and academic partners have committed to future research on laminar flow wings during a demonstration of the aircraft manufacturer’s Flight Lab testbed at the ILA Berlin Air Show in Germany this week.

The Flight Lab demonstrator aircraft is a modified Airbus A340-400, MSN001, that is currently performing flight tests to assess the feasibility of introducing laminar flow wing technology on commercial airliners.

Airbus engineers believe the use of wings optimized to preserve the laminar flow of air and reduce wing friction could reduce aircraft drag by 10% and lower CO2 emissions by up to 5%. MSN001’s flight tests are part of the BLADE (Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe) project.

The Flight Lab made its maiden flight in September 2017, fitted with two transonic laminar outer wings, a GKN Aerospace concept with a metallic leading edge, and a Saab concept using carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic.

The test aircraft, which is the first in the world to combine a transonic laminar wing profile with a true internal primary structure, has so far performed 66 flight hours and will continue flying until next year to explore the factors that influence laminarity.

The aircraft is fitted with a flight test instrumentation (FTI) station and is also using a number of firsts in terms of testing technology, Airbus said. This includes the use of infrared cameras to monitor the laminar flow transition points on the wings and an acoustic generator to measure the influence of acoustics on laminarity. Another first is the use of a reflectometry system, which measures overall deformation in real time during flight.

The modifications to the A340-300 testbed aircraft took place over 16 months in Tarbes, France, with the support of the numerous industrial partners across Europe.

The BLADE project is funded by the EU through the Clean Sky project, a €1.6bn (US$1.95bn) research initiative that has been running since 2008. BLADE has involved more than 20 partners and around 500 contributors from across Europe.

Airbus and several representatives from partner organizations signed an accord recognizing the success of BLADE so far and to affirm their desire to build on those successes in the future at the ILA Berlin Air Show this week (April 25-29).

April 26, 2018

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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