Airbus just announced the opening of a new Wing Technology Development Center (WTDC), that could be key for its next generation of airliners.
New aircraft wing developments look set to be a hot topic over the next few years. Both Airbus and Boeing busying themselves with related projects. We have seen how Boeing is working with NASA on the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing (TTBW), now called the X-66A. This MD-90-based testbed should fly before the end of the decade.
The purpose of the unusual setup of the Boeing/NASA X-66A is to explore the potential of a very high aspect ratio wing. A single-aisle airliner with such a wing could see significant fuel savings. The wing would need a folding mechanism, in order to fit in existing airport gates for single-aisle jets.
Airbus doesn’t seem to be pursuing a similar setup for its new wing projects – at least not yet. But the European manufacturer is already working on multiple new wing studies. One of these is the eXtra Performance Wing, which will involve “re-winging” a Cessna Citation.
Another new Airbus project is the Wing of Tomorrow. Between them, the two programs are exploring both the design and the manufacturing techniques behind the next generation of composite wings. The European manufacturer’s wing design will include folding wingtips, too.
Carbon-fiber wings can offer significant efficiency gains. But producing these wings in high volume is harder than the production of more conventional wings. So bringing down both the cost and the manufacturing time of future wings will be key in new projects for both Airbus and Boeing.
New Wing Technologies… for Which Airbus?
Nusrat Ghani, UK Minister of State at the Department for Business and Trade, opened the Wing Technology Development Center at Airbus’ site at Filton. Sue Partridge, Airbus Head of Filton site and Wing of Tomorrow Program, said this about the WTDC hub:
“The new Wing Technology Development Centre will help us to ground our research in practicality. A key element of how we deliver technology for next generation aircraft wings is through Wing of Tomorrow (WoT), our largest research and technology programme led by the team in the UK.
“Last week, we achieved a critical milestone in the programme when our second wing demonstrator was completed by the team in Broughton, Wales and delivered to the WTDC. Here it will be prepared for structural testing in our Aerospace Integrated Research and Technology Centre (AIRTeC).”
At the moment, it is not clear which Airbus aircraft will be the first to benefit from a new pair of wings. Airbus is working on a number of future hydrogen concepts. But many analysts believe that the European manufacturer could first re-wing one of its existing designs.
A longer A220 could benefit from a new wing, especially if Airbus needs the aircraft to have a long range. Airbus could also enlarge and re-wing the A321 and even the A320, leaving more “room” at the smaller end of the single-aisle family for the A220.