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Airbus Tests Bird-Like Flapping Wings For Its Future Aircraft

by : Hannah Smith on : 20 Oct 2020 18:05
Airbus Tests Bird Like Flapping Wings For Its Future AircraftAirbus Tests Bird Like Flapping Wings For Its Future AircraftAirbus

Is it a bird, is it a plane? Well, this new Airbus prototype aircraft is kind of both.

The plane manufacturer has unveiled a scale model aiplane that actually flaps its wings during flight. The model, named AlbatrossONE, has been going through various stages of testing since last year, and recently hit a new milestone by completing a successful ‘gate-to-gate’ proof of concept flight.

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While the AlbatrossONE fuselage looks more or less the same as the aircraft we’re used to flying on, the model is equipped with longer-than-normal wings that are able to bend backwards and forwards at the tip, which Airbus says will allow for more efficient flight.

The aircraft, which is remote-controlled by developers from the ground, is named after the bird that inspired it. Like the Albatross, the plane’s semi-elasticated wing tips are designed to react to wing gusts while in flight.

Following the successful test flight, Airbus has posted a video of the model in action on YouTube:

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In a Q&A posted to the Airbus website, semi-aeroelastic hinge project leader Tom Wilson explained how the plane was inspired by the bird’s ability to ‘lock’ and ‘unlock’ its wings depending on flying conditions.

Wilson added that the new model could potentially lead to greener air travel, saying:

Semi-aeroelastic hinged wing-tips are remarkable because they would enable a step change in aircraft performance: a major increase in wing span with minimal impact on wing weight would reduce drag, leading to significant reductions in fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

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The team are quick to stress that the project still has a long way to go until it becomes a viable model for actual flight, but says this latest proof of concept test is an exciting step forward for the idea, and could lead to the development of larger-scale models.

The AlbatrossONE is just the latest example of biomimicry – a design practice which uses examples found in nature to create manmade solutions – in action, and Airbus isn’t the first company to take inspiration from birds when designing more efficient modes of transport. Most famously, the engineers responsible for the Japanese ‘shinkansen’ rail network were inspired by Kingfishers birds when designing the bullet trains.

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