Taking inspiration from feathered experts in the art of graceful soaring, Airbus has test flown a scale-model airplane that incorporates flapping wingtips which designers say could one day lead to lighter wing designs with less drag.
Based on the wing structure of the albatross, which is an excellent soarer, the remote-controlled AlbatrossOne model plane uses a "semi-aeroelastic hinge" concept that reacts to turbulence and wind gusts to minimize their effects and reduce stress on the airframe.
The demonstrator is a scaled-down version of an Airbus A321 that was developed over a 20-month period at Filton, South Gloucestershire, England, where the Concorde SST emerged some 50 years ago.
The hinges allow the tips to move in response to wind gusts and turbulence, reducing stress on the wing structure and removing drag. If they work as hoped, engineers will be able to take weight out of the wing structure thanks to reduced aerodynamic stresses.
The first phase of test flights in February 2019 occurred with the wingtips locked and unlocked, Airbus said in a news release. The next phase will involve unlocking the wings in flight to examine the transition.