One of the world’s largest aerospace manufacturing companies is developing a new airplane with flapping wings. Earlier this month, Airbus announced plans to develop small airplanes with wingtips that can flap up and down. Known as semi-aeroelastic hinge wingtips, they are designed to mimic the way in which birds fly to achieve a superior level of fuel efficiency.
When announcing the new semi-aeroelastic hinge technology, Airbus explained that albatross sea birds are capable of flying hundreds of kilometers. During calm winds, albatross birds can lock their wings in place, allowing them to glide long distances without stopping. During turbulent winds, on the other hand, they can flap their wings to navigate more easily. This prompted the company’s engineering team to create new wingtips that replicate the way in which albatross birds fly.
Using this framework, Airbus engineers developed a prototype to showcase their semi-aerolastic wingtips. The prototype, aptly named Albatross One, is a small airplane featuring hinged, flapping wingtips. As you may know, nearly all airplanes have static wings that don’t flap, fold or otherwise move during flight. Albatross One, however, takes a different approach, as one-third of the total wings on both sides of the airplane can fold.
“The concept of hinged wing-tips is not new,” said Airbus engineer Tom Wilson in a press release. “Military jets employ them to allow greater storage capacity on aircraft carriers. However, Albatross One is the first aircraft to trial in-flight, freely flapping wing-tips—which account for up to a third of the length of the wing.”
In the press release, Airbus revealed that Albatross One features a carbon-fiber construction with components created from 3D printing. Of course, the most impressive feature of the Albatross One is its folding wingtips, which are designed specifically mimic the way in which albatross birds fly. The wings can essentially fold up or down, depending on wind conditions, to fly more effortless, thereby making the airplane more fuel efficient.
Airbus has been working on the folding wingtips for nearly two years. So, when can you expect to see commercial jets with Airbus’s semi-aeroelastic hinge wingtips? Being that the aerospace manufacturing company just recently launched the Albatross One prototype, it may take some time. Nonetheless, the technology has garnered a significant amount of attention among aviation companies and pilots. Assuming it works at intended, Airbus’s folding wingtips could result in substantial cost-savings benefits for airlines.