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New Wing Designs Being Trialed By Airbus As Technology Rivalry With Boeing Heats Up

New Wing Designs Being Trialed By Airbus As Technology Rivalry With Boeing Heats Up
Although it faces a battle to reduce costs, Airbus is pushing up testing of revolutionary new wing technology as it builds the framework for a future model that will replace its best-selling A320 series.
The opening of a wing technology facility in southwest England on Tuesday by British Industry Minister Nusrat Ghani will contribute to the development of wings that are longer, lighter, more slender, and have folding wingtips for more sustainable flight.
"It's our programme to prepare technologies we are going to need for the next generation of Airbus aircraft, whatever that is," Sue Partridge, head of the company's Wing of Tomorrow programme, told reporters.
The debut occurs while Boeing studies a long, extremely light idea known as Transonic Truss-Braced Wings.
The aircraft competition will be shaped long into the second half of the century by the choices made by either firm about wing designs and production techniques, as well as engine advances.
According to industry sources, Airbus is investing in Wing of Tomorrow to the "high hundreds of millions" of dollars.
Officially, the research might be useful for any project, but the single-aisle A320's replacement, which Airbus has suggested could be introduced between 2035 and 2040, is the focus of attention.
"This is about getting technology ready for a future single- aisle product, so a high (production-)rate product," Partridge said of a set of demonstrator models.
"We need to develop composite technologies to get weight out of the wing, but they need to be at the right cost and the right production-rate capability".
The most popular A320/321 and rival Boeing 737 are now constructed of aluminium, but designers hope that composites will enable future wings to be tapered in innovative and efficient ways.
The primary barrier is the higher cost of producing composite parts, which makes it more difficult to implement on the competitively priced A320 and 737 than on larger aircraft currently constructed of composites.
Partridge claimed that Airbus was in discussions with at least three vendors to reduce prices and more effectively weave pieces.
A manufacturing revolution might also be necessary to meet the current production targets for single-aisle planes, which are ten times greater than those for huge jets.
At the moment, autoclaves, which eat up space and energy, are used to pressurise ovens to cure aerospace composites.
Airbus is researching whether to produce wings without using autoclaves, according to Partridge.
Only a brand-new Russian plane has fully utilised that technique so far, but analysts say it would take a substantial investment and cost reductions to scale it up to Airbus or Boeing proportions.
At the famous Filton location, where a portion of the Anglo-French Concorde was created, testing as wings grow longer involves folding wingtips to suit parking gates, emulating Boeing's 777X.
"The physics tells us that to get a more fuel-efficient wing it needs to be longer and more slender. That means we need to increase the span of the wing," Partridge said.
Partridge would to specify when Airbus will decide which of the several technologies it is testing to implement, but he did indicate that the company would be prepared for any commercial decision on a new programme. According to analysts, development on a 2035 model would need to begin by 2027–2028.
When asked if new technology might conceivably be used to improve current models like the A321, Partridge responded, "Yes."
According to sources in the industry, if Airbus goes forward with a prospective extend of the smaller A220, it may use some of the research.
Airbus has not disclosed the specifics of the "A220 Stretch" aircraft, but according to insiders, one design asks for new wings and engines, with service introduction not before 2030.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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