Airbus today initiated its latest research in further reducing the fuel consumption of airliners – keeping the company and Europe at the forefront of enhancing air transportation’s ecological footprint.

Today’s milestone was the Airbus A340 Flight Lab’s first takeoff equipped with outer wing sections designed for highly smooth airflow over their surfaces. Known as natural laminar flow, such smoothed passage of air creates less drag than the airflow on traditional wings, potentially reducing fuel burn by as much as 4.6 percent on an 800-nautical mile trip.

Designated as project BLADE – an acronym for Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe – this research effort utilises the first-ever A340 jetliner produced by Airbus, with its outboard wings replaced with approximately 10-meter-long laminar wing panels. These panels represent about two-thirds of the wing size on a short- or medium-range airliner, for which the laminar flow technology is deemed best suited.

Collecting 2,000 parameters during some 150 flight test hours

BLADE is organized through Europe’s Clean Sky aeronautical research program. The BLADE project involves 21 European partners with 500 contributors, including GKN Aerospace: designer of the starboard laminar flow wing panel, and Saab: designer of the port wing segment.

Airbus flight test engineer Philippe Seve said preparations of the A340 BLADE testbed spanned 16 months, which included integration of the laminar flow wing sections, along with the installation of a highly complex installation of sensors and instrumentation to collect 2,750 dedicated measurements during some 150 flight test hours.

A team of 10 specially-trained pilots, test engineers and flight test engineers have been preparing for the A340 BLADE flight evaluations, spending time in a simulator and familiarising themselves with the mission equipment – the most technologically-advanced to be installed on an Airbus flight test aircraft.