07 March 2016

A holistic approach to greener, cleaner and quieter aircraft

By sucking air through tiny holes in the leading edge of the wings and tail fins of aircraft, manipulating airflow and modifying wing flaps, a large-scale EU-funded project is developing and testing a range of innovative aeronautics technologies that will improve fuel efficiency, reduce noise and lower the environmental footprint of aircraft.

The AFLoNext project, coordinated by Airbus and involving 40 partners in 15 countries, is helping to lay the foundations for a greener air transport industry, focusing on technologies that should have a significant impact on the performance of existing and future generations of passenger aircraft. In combination, the technologies could cut fuel consumption by more than 10 %, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and operating costs for airlines, while improving aircraft efficiency and reducing noise pollution around airports.

“In AFLoNext we are not reinventing the wheel, but building on earlier research that has shown promise and bringing it closer to maturity and commercial viability, primarily through extensive large-scale testing,” explains project coordinator Martin Wahlich of Airbus Operations’ Flight Physics Research and Technology centre in Germany.

Among the more mature technologies being studied in the project is hybrid laminar flow control (HLFC) on aircraft fins and wings. HLFC is achieved by incorporating a precision-engineered mesh of tiny holes – each around 60 microns in diameter – that suck in turbulent air, thereby increasing the laminar zone on the profile to reduce drag. By applying HLFC to the tail fin and outer wing, the AFLoNext researchers estimate that reduced drag will enable fuel savings of around 9 %.

To counter the risk of the tiny holes becoming blocked by insects at low altitudes, an innovative shielding system has been developed, using the high-lift system on the leading edge to protect the micro-perforated areas.

AFLoNext will test the HLFC system applied to a vertical tail plane on the Airbus A320 ATRA test aircraft at the German aerospace centre DLR, while also conducting tests on models on the ground to check system integration issues.

For more information: http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?id=/research/star/index_en.cfm?p=s1-ebsf2&calledby=infocentre&item=Infocentre&artid=38516