Robb Report (USA)

Hot Wings, Extra Sauce

- Michael Verdon

planes with flapping wings sound more anime than aerospace, but the world’s largest airframers on both sides of the Atlantic are expediting prototypes that could shape the next generation of business and commercial jets in entirely unconventi­onal ways. Their mission? To make aircraft exceedingl­y more fuel efficient and help deliver on aviation’s sustainabi­lity pledge to be carbon-neutral by 2050. In Europe, Airbus is designing radical wing configurat­ions, including one that changes form to counter turbulence, while stateside, Boeing has partnered on NASA’S X-66A experiment­al plane that relies on trusses to support unusually long and slender wings.

The Extra Performanc­e Wing that Airbus is developing “mimics a bird’s feathers and adjusts automatica­lly to maximize aerodynami­c flow,” says Sebastien Blanc, technical wing director for the project, part of the Airbus

Upnext program. Flight tests for the 165-footlong shape-shifting wing will begin next year on a Cessna Citation

VII jet. “Like a bird, it dynamicall­y adapts to conditions, using active control technologi­es,” explains Blanc. And its folding wingtips, an ancillary design, will allow for increased performanc­e while fitting into the constraint­s of the airport gates.

Thin, elongated wings are also integral to the X-66A, a Boeing concept that NASA greenlight­ed last year as part of its Sustainabl­e Flight Demonstrat­or program. Spearheadi­ng the $1.15 billion plan across a seven-year timeline, Boeing will modify an MD-90 aircraft by shortening the fuselage and mounting the engines under what it calls a Transonic Trussbrace­d Wing, which, as the name implies, relies on a set of aerodynami­c trusses.

“Our goal was to develop a more sustainabl­e airplane that can replace current single-aisle aircraft,” says Brent Cobleigh, NASA’S X-66A project manager, adding that the latter account for nearly half of global flight emissions. “With advanced propulsion and lighter-weight materials, we think it will have a 30 percent reduction in fuel burn.”

The industry’s goal to reach carbon neutrality in the next 26 years faces strong headwinds in cost alone. Yet with such out-of-the-box concepts being explored by some of the world’s biggest aerospace innovators, others may soon be motivated to earn their own sustainabi­lity wings.

 ?? ?? The X-66A aircraft uses aerodynami­c trusses to support long, slender wings to reduce fuel burn.
The X-66A aircraft uses aerodynami­c trusses to support long, slender wings to reduce fuel burn.

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