First flight for Airbus BLADE demonstrator


Airbus’s A340 laminar-flow BLADE test flight aircraft (A340-300 MSN001) has made a successful first flight for the EU-sponsored Clean Sky project.

The aircraft, dubbed ‘Flight Lab’, took off from the Tarbes aerodrome in southern France at 11:00am local time and, after a series of successful tests, landed at Airbus’s facilities at Toulouse Blagnac Airport. The overall flight time was 3 hours 38mins.

The BLADE (Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe) project is tasked with assessing the feasibility of introducing the technology for commercial aviation. It aims to improve aviation’s ecological footprint, bringing with it a 50% reduction of wing friction and up to 5% reduced CO₂ emissions. Airbus’s A340 Flight Lab is the first test aircraft in the world to combine a transonic laminar wing profile with a true internal primary structure.

On the outside the aircraft is fitted with two representative transonic laminar outer wings, while inside the cabin a highly complex specialist flight test instrumentation (FTI) station has been installed. The extensive modifications to the A340-300 testbed aircraft took place during 16 months of work in Tarbes, with the support of numerous industrial partners across Europe. Today’s first flight marks the kick-off of the BLADE flight test campaign to explore the wing’s characteristics in flight.

“We began by opening the flight envelope to check that the aircraft was handling correctly,” explained Airbus flight test engineer Philippe Seve, who was on board the flight. “We achieved our objective to fly at the design Mach number, at a reasonable altitude, and check everything was fine. We also checked that the FTI (flight test instrumentation) was working as expected, to identify further fine-tuning for the next flights.”

On the wings, there are hundreds of points to measure the waviness of the surface to help Airbus’s engineers ascertain its influence on the laminarity – which is the first time that Airbus has used such a testing method on an aircraft. Other firsts are the use of infrared cameras inside the pod to measure wing temperature, and the acoustic generator, which measures the influence of acoustics on laminarity. In addition, there is also an innovative reflectometry system, which measures overall deformation in real time during flight.

A key goal of BLADE is to be able to measure the tolerances and imperfections which can be present and still sustain laminarity. To this end, Airbus will simulate every type of imperfection in a controlled manner, so that at the end of the campaign the tolerances for building a laminar wing will be fully known. The flight Lab will perform around 150 flight hours in the coming months.

Click here to see a video of the BLADE demonstrator’s debut flight. 

September 27, 2017

Pic: Airbus 2017 – photo by H Gousse / master films

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