Europe-based giant aerospace group Airbus announced on Thursday that it had successfully flown a remote-controlled scale-model aircraft (based on the Airbus A321 single-aisle airliner and designated AlbatrossOne) fitted with flapping wing-tips. This is the first time that any category of aircraft fitted with such wing-tips has been flown.
This technology is technically called a “semi-aeroelastic hinge” and could, the company said, revolutionise the design of aircraft wings. It is intended to reduce drag, reduce the overall weight of the wings, and counter the effects of wind gusts and turbulence.
“While hinged wing-tips are not new – military jets employ them to allow greater storage capacity in aircraft carriers – the Airbus demonstrator is the first aircraft to trial in-flight, freely-flapping wing-tips to relieve the effects of wind gust and turbulence,” reported Filton, UK-based Airbus engineer Tom Wilson. “We drew inspiration from nature – the albatross marine bird locks its wings at the shoulder for long-distance soaring but unlocks them when wind-gusts occur or manoeuvring is required.”
The AlbatrossOne was developed over 20 months, and its initial flight test programme was completed in February. This programme checked the aircraft’s stability, with both locked and fully unlocked wing-tips. “The next step is to conduct further tests to combine the two modes, allowing the wing-tips to unlock during flight and to examine the transition,” explained James Kirk, also an engineer at Filton.
“The AlbatrossOne model will explore the benefits of unlockable, freely-flapping wing-tips – accounting for up to a third of the length of the wing – to react autonomously during in-flight turbulence and lessen the load on the wing at its base, so reducing the need for heavily reinforced wing boxes,” added Wilson. It has been built using glass-fibre-reinforced polymers and carbon fibre, and includes components made using additive manufacturing (more popularly called 3D printing).