Airliners can save up to 10 percent in fuel – along with a corresponding reduction in emissions – by flying in formation like birds, Airbus has revealed.
The concept, which the European aerospace company has called fello’fly, ensures that planes fly relatively close behind each other.
This allows the trailing planes to take advantage of the swirls of rotating air left behind by the wing tips of the leading plane – a technique borrowed from geese known as ‘vortex surfing’.
Tests with two of Airbus’s A350 planes will begin this year and will be tested in ocean airspace as early as 2021, the company said.
If successful, the company hopes to add the maneuvers to regular service around 2015 – a step that could reduce CO2 emissions from aviation by 3-4 million tons per year.
However, the company will first require buy-in from air traffic services providers and regulatory authorities to allow vessels to fly closer together than it currently does.
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Airliners can save up to 10 percent in fuel – along with a corresponding reduction in emissions – by flying in formation like birds, Airbus has revealed. Pictured, geese fly in a V.
The concept – which the European airline firm has called fello’fly – will allow planes to fly relatively close behind each other, so that the towing craft can get a free lift. This is due to the smooth updraft that flows around the edges of the turbulent wake of the leading aircraft
Vortex surfing, also referred to as ‘wake energy retrieval’, allows an aircraft to recover energy ‘lost’ from the craft in front of it, by getting ‘free lift’ on the buoyancy created around it. wake of the leading aircraft.
The wake itself, in the form of two eddies ejected from an aircraft’s wingtips, can be dangerous and has the potential to flip other, smaller aircraft over if they fly too close to the aircraft generating the wake.
Normally, when flying in so-called ‘oceanic airspace’, airlines keep about 30-50 nautical miles (55-90 kilometers) apart along a given flight path, in addition to a vertical separation of 300 feet (305 meters) for safety.
However, in a flight maneuver, once both vessels have passed the so-called ‘waypoint’ and entered oceanic airspace, they will close their horizontal distance to 1.5 nautical miles (3 kilometers).
“ While this sounds challenging, a pair of longitudinal fello’fly planes will still be ten times farther apart than the 300-foot vertical separations that have been safe in practice for more than two decades, ” Airbus said in a press release .
At this point, the lead aircraft assumes responsibility for communicating with the aircraft’s air traffic control, while the assistance technology on the tracking aircraft helps the pilot navigate over and to the best position in the updraft to save fuel.
Assistive technology is needed, as both the wake and the favorable takeoff are invisible to the eye – but the aircraft will have to maintain proper positioning with respect to both to ensure smooth flight.
When the planes need to separate to go to different destinations, the tail plane will reverse the maneuver – back to the original flight level and instruct air traffic control to monitor both planes separately again.
Fello’fly uses a technique called ‘wake energy retrieval’ – a trick borrowed from migrating geese, as illustrated above – in which an aircraft recovers energy ‘lost’ from the craft in front of it by getting a free lift from the buoyancy force those around the wake of the leading aircraft
Tests – which will involve two of Airbus’s A350 planes, as pictured – will begin this year and be tested in oceanic skies as early as 2021, the company said.
Airbus last week announced a partnership with two airlines – French Bee and Scandinavian Airlines – along with the UK, French and European air navigation service providers to demonstrate the viability of the fello’fly concept.
“For airlines, the main concern is understanding which two aircraft are suitable for this joint activity on any given day, as well as changes in the pilot’s role in conducting a new type of operation,” Airbus explains.
“For air navigation service providers, the main focus is to help air traffic controllers safely bring two aircraft together in a shared operation while meeting new air traffic control requirements,” they explained.
“In the aviation industry, meeting our emissions reduction targets will require the implementation of innovative new ways to use aircraft in the air,” said Nick Macdonald, Airbus CEO and leader of fello’fly demonstrations. Pictured, an illustration of the fello’fly method
‘We have to make sure that we can do the connection safely. We will not compromise on safety, “Airbus CEO Sandra Bour Schaeffer told CNN
“In the aviation industry, meeting our emissions reduction targets will require the implementation of innovative new ways to use aircraft in the air,” said Nick Macdonald, Airbus CEO and leader of fello’fly demonstrations.
“Our collaboration with our airline partners and air navigation service providers on fello’fly shows that we are making good efforts to achieve these goals,” he added.
The tests beginning this year will begin tests of the pilot assistant technology, paving the way for more extensive demonstrations next year.
‘We have to make sure that we can do the connection safely. We will not compromise on safety, ”said Airbus CEO Sandra Bour Schaeffer CNN.
WHY DO MIGRATING BIRDS FLY IN A V FORMATION?
Birds fly in av formation to make them fly more efficiently, while staying in the air while consuming as little energy as possible.
Scientists learned the aviation secrets of migratory birds after attaching small logging devices to a swarm of 14 northern bald ibises that not only tracked their position and speed by satellite, but also measured every flap of their wings.
The 14 birds used in the study were hand-reared at the Vienna Zoo in Austria by the Waldrapp team, an Austrian conservation group reintroducing northern bald ibeses to Europe.
Birds fly in av formation to help them fly more efficiently, while staying in the air while using as little energy as possible (stock image)
The birds were studied as they flew alongside an microlight on their migration route from Austria to their winter home in Tuscany, Italy.
Lead investigator Dr Steve Portugal, of the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, said: “ The distinctive V-formation of bird flocks has long intrigued researchers and continues to attract scientific and popular attention, but a definitive account of the aerodynamic implications of these formations have remained elusive until now.
The intricate mechanisms involved in V formation flight indicate a remarkable awareness and ability of birds to respond to the wing path of nearby flocks. Birds in V formation appear to have developed complex phasing strategies to cope with the dynamic wake of flapping wings. ‘
When flying in a V formation, the birds’ wing flaps were roughly ‘in phase,’ meaning all wing tips followed roughly the same path, the scientists found.
This helped each bird catch extra lift from its neighbor up front.
Occasional positional shifts within the formation meant that birds sometimes flew directly behind each other.
When this happened, the birds changed their wing beats in an out of phase pattern to avoid being caught by downwash.
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