Clean Sky

A research powerhouse for greener aircraft

In research, size matters. With an impressive budget of 4bn Euros, Clean Sky is the largest European research programme that strives to significantly reduce aircraft emissions and noise levels. Having just entered in its second phase – Clean Sky 2, or CS2 – the programme has already produced some astonishing results.

Pushing the bounds of aeronautical research

A340 laminar flow BLADE demonstrator first flight

Funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme and industry, Clean Sky is Europe's flagship programme for civil aeronautical research and innovation. Clean Sky has two objectives: Firstly, to find solutions for the air transport needs of tomorrow's increasingly mobile and growing population. This is no easy feat: We need to push aeronautical science beyond the limits of imagination by creating new technologies that significantly reduce aviation's impact on the planet. Secondly, Clean Sky aims to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness and technological leadership, thus safeguarding tens of thousands of jobs in the aerospace industry.

The programme – a long-term public-private partnership between the European Commission and the aerospace industry – achieves these objectives by acting as a hub: Clean Sky operates at the centre of an ecosystem of over 600 entities from across Europe, from aerospace companies such as Airbus to SMEs, research centres, regulatory bodies and academia. Roughly 40% of the participants are SMEs. Together, they work on large-scale research projects that require the resources and expertise of numerous stakeholders.

Wings of change

One of many promising approaches is to lower aircraft emissions by reducing drag. This is the aim of BLADE, a project headed by Airbus to design a new kind of laminar wing that displaces turbulence as far as possible from the wing’s leading edge. By modifying the shape, materials and surface of the wings, fuel consumption could be reduced by 4.6 per cent. This would be a very significant contribution by a single technological innovation.

The technology is being tested on one of two ‘Flight Labs’ provided by Airbus to test high potential technologies developed within Clean Sky. The outer wings of Flight Lab 2 – an A340 long-haul aircraft – have been replaced with two types of laminar wings, one on each side. Geometrically identical, each one is based on a different structural concept. With the first successful test flight completed in September 2017, these types of technologies could be incorporated into commercial aircraft in the near future.

An ambitious Clean Sky 3

The EU is now at work planning its next multiyear research initiative. The proposed Clean Sky 3, still to be defined, would be part of the next EU research framework program, FP9, which is to begin in 2021. Given the crucial role of Clean Sky in facilitating cutting-edge innovations that significantly reduce the environmental impact of aviation, Airbus recommends that the next phase of the programme be even more ambitious, with a special focus on electrification and digitalisation.


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