Could An Airplane With Flapping Wings Soon Be Flying?

Patrick Metcalfe/Courtesy Airbus

It would help reduce turbulence.

Designers and engineers are always on a mission to reconfigure airplanes making them more comfortable and efficient. It was just revealed a new middle seat design would be coming to two major airlines giving passengers more room, while other designs( like alternating rows of seats situated on an elevated deck) are unlikely to see the light of day. But Airbus just announced they are testing out a completely wild idea: an airplane with flapping wings.

Yes, the European manufacturer announced they'd developed a smaller aircraft inspired by the albatross, a seabird that can soar hundreds of miles without flapping its wings. "The albatross is synonymous with the next generation of aircraft wings," read the company's release. "The secret of the albatross' flight techniques lies in its capacity to 'lock' its wing at the shoulder when traveling over long distances."

With this in mind, engineers created a design with flapping wingtips called the AlbatrossOne. The freely flapping capability allows for the wingtips to react and adjust to gusts of wind, ultimately reducing drag and fighting against turbulence. Plus, it significantly reduces the load.

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"The concept of hinged wingtips is not new," said Airbus engineer Tom Wilson, in a statement. "Military jets employ them to allow greater storage capacity on aircraft carriers. However, AlbatrossOne is the first aircraft to trial in-flight, freely flapping wingtips—which account for up to a third of the length of the wing."

But don't expect the design to hit commercial planes just yet. The first flight tests of the design were completed in February, and there are more to come.

In the meantime, Airbus is looking at other animals for design inspiration. In July, the company revealed its "Bird of Prey" concept inspired by features of eagles and hawks. It also has been outfitting some airplanes with small "riblet" patches, a textured surface similar to that of sharks. That design is also meant to reduce drag and boost efficiency. Where will their next inspiration come from next?