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18 November 2019
18. November 2019 Innovation

Airlines are looking to reduce fuel consumption. Wake-energy retrieval could help

How aircraft flying together—inspired by migrating geese—could boost the environmental performance of aircraft

This flight demonstrator project aims to prove the technical, operational and economic viability of wake-energy retrieval for commercial aircraft. This collaborative activity could make a significant impact on aircraft’s environmental performance, including potential fuel savings of 5-10% per trip.

Migrating geese fly in a “V” shape to save energy and benefit from the “air upwash” of the leader. For commercial aircraft, this flight technique—inspired by nature—represents a significant opportunity to help airlines to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. 

It is a clear, cloudless day. Against the bright blue sky, a flock of geese is flying in a “V” shape in which a leader takes the pole position and the others spread out laterally behind it. For many, this is a familiar sight. But why do geese fly in this way?  

To this question, some people might explain that this flight technique helps geese to save energy. And they would be right. However, scientists now understand that flying in a “V” shape is actually a lot more impressive than anyone had imagined.  

 

 

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Innovation 23 October 2010

fello’fly

This flight demonstrator project aims to prove the technical, operational and economic viability of wake-energy retrieval for commercial aircraft. This collaborative activity could make a significant impact on aircraft’s environmental performance, including potential fuel savings of 5-10% per trip.

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Commercial Aircraft 15 November 2019

fello’fly demonstrator

Through fello’fly, a follower aircraft will retrieve the energy lost by the wake of a leader aircraft, by flying in the smooth updraft of air it creates

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When a bird flaps its wings, air flows over the wings and swirls upwards behind the wingtips. This flow creates a wake, which is a swirling movement of air containing kinetic energy. When the energetic core of the wake drags surrounding air, it creates smooth currents known as “upwash,” or air that moves upwards. When another bird enters the upwash, it immediately benefits from free lift, which enables it to stay aloft and expend a lot less energy.

The advantages of “wake-energy retrieval”—the technical term for flying in upwash—have been written about for decades. However, given the aviation industry’s commitment to reduce aircraft emissions, Airbus is taking a fresh look at how this flight technique could provide aircraft with free lift, enabling them to reduce engine thrust and fuel consumption.

 

 

fello’fly: a flight demonstrator project inspired by nature

 

Migrating birds fly in a “V” shape to save energy—a flying technique known as wake-energy retrival. Learn how fello’fly, an Airbus flight demonstrator project, aims to prove its technical, operational and economic viability for commercial aircraft. Read less Read more

Wake-energy retrieval: a new frontier for commercial aircraft

Just like birds, every aircraft creates a wake while flying. Flying together could thus help aircraft to retrieve the lost kinetic energy by positioning a follower aircraft in the air upwash of one of the lead aircraft’s wakes.

Several years ago, Airbus began investigating the benefits of wake-energy retrieval for commercial aircraft. In 2016, a series of flight tests demonstrated that significant fuel savings could be achieved when two aircraft fly approximately 3 kilometres apart—without compromising passenger comfort.

To achieve this evolutionary step in operations, we have to look at the challenge from the perspective of all industry stakeholders. It’s a great opportunity for our industry to demonstrate a joint commitment to reducing our use of fossil fuels.

Nick Macdonald, fello’fly Demonstrator Leader

At the time, air traffic management technology was not mature enough to enable aircraft to fly so close together in airspace. But significant technology improvements—including real-time flight tracking—are now being made. These technology improvements have paved the way for the development of fello’fly, a new flight demonstrator project within Airbus UpNext. The goal of fello’fly is to prove the technical, operational and economic viability of wake-energy retrieval for commercial aircraft.

“Safety is our top priority at Airbus,” explains Nick Macdonald, fello’fly Demonstrator Leader. “We’re working to develop the functions necessary to assist pilots to safely stay in position behind the leader during a long-haul flight.”

A collaborative activity to achieve significant fuel savings

If the fuel-reduction technology behind fello’fly proves viable, the aviation industry will benefit from a collaborative activity that demonstrates a clear commitment—between manufacturers, airlines, air navigation service providers, regulators and authorities—to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

And this collaborative activity could make a significant impact on aircraft’s environmental performance: fello’fly is expected to produce fuel savings of between 5-10% per trip. This means several tons of fuel and CO2 emissions could be saved during every fello’fly trip. 

“To achieve this evolutionary step in operations, we have to look at the challenge from the perspective of all industry stakeholders,” Nick explains. “It’s a great opportunity for our industry to demonstrate a joint commitment to reducing our use of fossil fuels.”

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