National Composites Centre collaborates to optimise wing aerodynamics in bid to decarbonise aviation industry

15 June 2022

15 June 2022

Engineers at the National Composites Centre (NCC), the UK’s world-leading R&D centre for advanced composites, are working with Airbus on its innovative ‘eXtra Performance Wing’ demonstrator programme designed to accelerate technologies in wing aerodynamics that improve performance and reduce environmental impact.

The eXtra Performance Wing programme is developing and validating breakthrough active control technologies that can adapt the wing shape and area to the particular weight, speed and altitude of the aircraft to suit fight conditions. They include pop-up spoilers, multifunctional trailing edges on flaps that can dynamically change the surface of the wing in flight, and a semi-aeroelastic hinge that controls a moving folding tip. Compatible with any propulsion system, the active control technologies will be integrated into the wing structure to improve performance and ultimately reduce emissions.

Longer, thinner and lighter, the eXtra composite wing design takes its inspiration from nature. Just as an eagle uses its wing and longer tailing feathers to control its flight, the new active control technologies embedded in the wing enables it to adapt its shape, span and surface for increased flight efficiency.

The NCC is working with Airbus to design the demonstrator wing which, being longer than standard, is more flexible, and therefore more susceptible to turbulence. The NCC will look to manufacture primary components of the ‘wing box’ structure to host the new active control technologies, comprising the upper and lower skin cover, and the leading edge and trailing edge spars.

The design phase is expected to be complete this summer, followed by the full-scale demonstrator wing manufacturing stage, with the first flight of the demonstrator aircraft following modification of the aircraft with the new wings. The project team is adapting a Cessna Citation VII aircraft for flight tests.

Paul Clarke, Head of Aerospace at the National Composites Centre, says: "Composites deliver the strength and flexibility of design that the eXtra Performance Wing demands. Together with Airbus, we’re building on the NCC’s aerospace knowledge and experience, pushing advances in industrial design for composites and the use of novel manufacturing technologies in the pursuit of zero emission aircraft. Following our recent AS9100 quality management standards accreditation, we are well positioned to support the wider UK composites supply chain in the development of aerospace technology through to industrial application, potentially opening new opportunities for non-aerospace companies to access this market."

The design phase of the programme is a partnership between Expleo, the University of Bristol, the National Composites Centre (part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult) and Airbus and is partly funded through a grant from the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI).

In April 2022, Airbus completed wind-tunnel testing of a scaled-down partly 3D-printed model of the aircraft incorporating the eXtra Performance Wing, to validate the concepts prior to flight tests.

Developing the eXtra Performance Wing in Britain will grow the supply chain skills that will help keep the UK a global centre of excellence for aircraft wing manufacture.

The National Composites Centre has a long-standing partnership with Airbus, working on major innovation programmes including the Wing of Tomorrow, which is exploring radical new approaches to the design and manufacture of aircraft wings.


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