TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) -Airbus said on Wednesday it would research an “extra performance wing” capable of changing shape during flight in an effort to secure greater efficiencies and reduce emissions.
Chief Technical Officer Sabine Klauke said the planemaker would build a flying demonstrator to test elements including “gust sensors,” with conclusions expected by mid-decade.
The project – first reported by industry publication The Air Current – complements the same planemaker’s UK-based “Wing of Tomorrow” eco-wing programme, which is preparing the ground for future competition with U.S. rival Boeing.
Airbus said the first full-size prototype in that project, designed to be tested on the ground, had been assembled.
The six-year-old UK wing project is designed to pioneer a production system capable of handling next-generation wings for future aircraft programmes like a mooted 2030s replacement of the best-selling A320/321 or an upgrade to the existing model.
An Airbus official told Bloomberg News in May that the aim was a wing that would be both affordable and capable of being built at a high production rate.
The new “extra performance” project will focus on the actual design and aerodynamic performance of such a wing, officials said at a company environmental conference, the Airbus Summit.
Wing design is one of the main areas of competition between Airbus and Boeing, which brought previously outsourced wing expertise in-house with a composite wing centre for its 777X.
Wings tend to improve in aerodynamic performance when their wingspan is longer, but a longer structure typically adds weight and finding the right balance is a complex juggling act.
The proposed new wing would include “pop-up spoilers” or wing surfaces to alter its profile and get the best performance, just as a bird twists its feathers, Airbus officials said.
The announcement came at the end of a two-day conference designed to showcase industry pledges to cut emissions amid climate concerns from politicians and investors.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Jane Merriman and Alistair Bell)