Birds help Air­bus to build quie­ter planes

S’inspirer des oi­seaux pour améliorer le vol des avions.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Sommaire -

Ha­bi­tuel­le­ment, quand on pense aux oi­seaux et aux avions, on ima­gine les ca­tas­trophes que la ren­contre entre les deux peut cau­ser. En aé­ro­nau­tique, on parle même de risque aviaire. Un scien­ti­fique bri­tan­nique sa­la­rié par le fa­bri­quant eu­ro­péen Air­bus pré­fère quant à lui se pen­cher sur le fonc­tion­ne­ment du vol des uns pour l’ap­pli­quer à ce­lui des autres…

The ha­bits and ana­to­my of birds are being used by bof­fins at Air­bus to de­ve­lop quie­ter and more fuel ef­fi­cient planes. 2. The avia­tion giant, which makes and de­si­gns wings in Brough­ton, Flint­shire, and Fil­ton, Glou­ces­ter­shire, em­ploys Pro­fes­sor Nor­man Wood to un­lock the mys­te­ries of the na­tu­ral world to help gain a com­mer­cial ad­van­tage. It is using so-cal­led ‘bio­mi­mi­cry’ in the de­si­gn of in­tel­li­gent wings that react au­to­ma­ti­cal­ly to the en­vi­ron­ment, just as an eagle’s or a per­egrine fal­con’s do.

3.While birds do it wi­thout thin­king, the idea is that a plane will do this with sen­sors that can de­tect chan­ging condi­tions and trig­ger ra­pid res­ponses in its wings.


4. The idea of co­pying birds goes back to the be­gin­nings of avia­tion with Leo­nar­do da Vin­ci. More re­cent­ly, Ot­to Li­lien­thal – a 19th cen­tu­ry pio­neer with his bro­ther Gus­tav – was an ob­ses­sive wat­cher of storks in their home town in Nor­thern Ger­ma­ny.

5. They used their ob­ser­va­tions of stork wings to help build a gli­der. The fa­ther of Bri­tish ae­ro­dy­na­mics Fre­de­rick William (FW) Lan­ches­ter, stu­died the flight of her­ring gulls while on a sea cros­sing to the Uni­ted States. He al­so ba­sed his air­craft fu­se­lage de­si­gn on rain­bow trout. To­day, wings for the A350 XWB pas­sen­ger jet being pro­du­ced in Air­bus’s Brough­ton fac­to­ry are a blend of science and na­ture.

6. Birds such as the per­egrine fal­con have ins­pi­red ‘mor­phing wings’ that change in­to the most ae­ro­dy­na­mic shape, let­ting the plane fly 280 miles fur­ther using the same amount of fuel. Birds do this by using muscles to change the shape of their wings as they fly or glide, so they can make maximum use of cur­rents and gusts of air – on an air­craft this is done with flaps and slats.


7. The nose of the new A350 XWB contains probes that can de­tect gusts of wind, just as sea birds can sense gusts through their beaks and react by ad­jus­ting the shape of their wing fea­thers. Ano­ther idea ins­pi­red by birds is that of ‘win­glets’ – tips at the end of wings that point up­wards.

8. Eagles’ wings com­bine maximum lift with minimum length by cur­ling up the fea­thers at

the tips un­til they are prac­ti­cal­ly ver­ti­cal. Win­glets co­py the up­ward curl of the fea­thers to help planes fly ef­fi­cient­ly and al­so to keep the length of the wings wi­thin li­mits set by air­ports – par­ti­cu­lar­ly han­dy with ve­ry large planes such as an A380 jum­bo jet.

9. A si­mi­lar concept to win­glets is the ‘shark­let’, used on A320 nar­row-bo­dy planes. These are 8ft-high fins on the ends of wings that re­duce drag and can be tur­ned al­most ver­ti­cal to get the plane in the gate. They make the plane 4pc more ef­fi­cient.


10. ‘Na­ture is a men­tor,’ says Wood. ‘Evo­lu­tion means that any­thing you now see has been se­lec­ted and is a suc­cess, de­ve­lo­ped over mil­lions of years. Of course, we need it fas­ter.’

11. Air­bus is stu­dying owls in or­der to re­duce noise in flight and on lan­ding. This will in­volve adap­ting ser­ra­ted wing fea­thers that owls have, which make them steal­thy in flight, and the owl’s dow­ny leg fea­thers, that en­able the birds to des­cend al­most noi­se­less­ly on their un­sus­pec­ting prey. The firm be­lieves that co­pying this, pos­si­bly with a vel­ve­ty coa­ting on a lan­ding gear could re­duce plane noise on take-off and lan­ding.

12. Ano­ther pos­sible idea is that pas­sen­ger jet­li­ners might in fu­ture be able to fly in for­ma­tion on long-haul flights.

13. Mi­gra­ting geese or ducks save ener­gy when they fly in for­ma­tion be­cause the lea­ding bird ge­ne­rates air cur­rents with its wings. The mi­li­ta­ry al­rea­dy uses for­ma­tion flying, but pas­sen­ger air­craft don’t, due to sa­fe­ty concerns.

(Air­bus/H. Gous­sé).

The nose of the new A350 XWB contains probes that can de­tect gusts of wind, just as sea birds can sense gusts through their beaks and react by ad­jus­ting the shape of their wing fea­thers.

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