Airbus plane designs are inspired by animals, Whether it’s a small single-engine or a massive Airbus A300-600ST, aircraft are designed in a three-stage process. This consists of the conceptual design phase, the preliminary design phase, and finally the detail design phase.
Taking inspiration from nature
In the 15th century, Leonardo Da Vinci wrote of bats, kites, and birds as sources of inspiration for one of his most famous inventions, the machine with flapping wings powered by the human body. His drawings of a flying machine, or ornithopter, are seen by some as the beginning of the history of manned flight.
It took another four hundred years before the first heavier-than-air machine took flight under its own power, near the small town of Kittyhawk in North Carolina.
The Wright brothers gave birth to aviation as we know it in 1903 and ever since engineers have been refining and improving the dynamics of flights to build bigger and more efficient aircraft.
In fact, Airbus plane designs continue to research the flight mechanics of a number of birds and have designed a model based in part on the wing design and movement of the albatross.
The AlbatrossONE project team built a small-scale remote-controlled aircraft with freely flapping wingtips capable of reacting and flexing to gusts of wind to provide extra efficiency.
NASA has also been looking at nature. In recent years, it teamed up with the US Air Force Research Laboratory and FlexSys Inc. to successfully complete initial flight tests of a new bendable “morphing” wing, that is closer to a bird’s wing than the hinged wings in use today.
According to NASA, it has the potential to significantly reduce fuel costs, reduce airframe weight, and decrease aircraft noise during take-offs and landings.
What was the inspiration for the airplane?
Airplanes began to use biomimicry as a concept. Engineers looked at birds and mimicked their wings, shape, and mode of flying. After some time, men were able to form airplane wings and bodies that looked almost like a bird.
The shape of birds helped to solve a problem that had existed in the world. Human beings needed a way to move from continent to continent, and he used the shape of an animal to inspire an invention that solved problems in accessibility, trade, business, and transportation.
How do animals inspire aircraft design?
Nature plays just as much a part in this, as science. Early aviation pioneers studied birds and bats – which were already highly evolved at taking flight – to work out how to emulate them. And still today, our industry continues to be inspired by the animal world.
Aircraft with beating wings
The goal of all aviation engineers is to make flight more efficient – so their aircraft can fly further, and faster, and use less fuel in the process.
A few years ago, NASA partnered with Flexsys and Air Force Research Laboratory to develop a revolutionary wing, with a ‘flapping’ motion, inspired by the wing movements of birds.
The Sky Whale by Oscar Viñals
The AWWA ‘Sky Whale’ is an enormous passenger aircraft concept, by Spanish designer and aviation enthusiast Oscar Viñals – with its shape inspired by the largest mammal on earth.
Some doubt the design could translate into reality. But Oscar Viñals was not deterred and went on to develop another nature-inspired aircraft concept: The Progress Eagle.
This design features ultra-lightweight materials and uses solar energy and turbines to generate electricity during flight.
Flying spies: The Bat & Swift
Smaller flying animals have inspired engineers to create small, unmanned monitoring devices, with cameras that scan the ground and the sky – just as birds do when hunting for prey.
RoboSwift is inspired by Swift. The small bird can fold its wings back to control its speed and its stability in the air.
COM-BAT, which has a design inspired by a bat, flies on solar energy and has a camera on the front. More discreet than a conventional drone or UAV, its mission is to gather information for the US Army.
TOP 5 Airbus plane designs inspired by animals
Airbus brands itself as an expert in biomimicry taking inspiration from nature by observing animals and trying to reapply some things they do in their engineering. While many of these projects are still in the development stage, below are five examples of aviation’s inspiration for nature.
5. Silent planes
Not exactly an aircraft concept, but rather improvements for their parts such as wings or landing gear come from Airbus’ studies of owls. Contrary to most birds, owls have primary feathers serrated like a comb.
These feathers allow the air to pass easily through their wings, which, in turn, muffles the sound of air flowing over the wing.
The European aerospace company is studying these birds in hopes of unlocking the secret of silent flight, and some of its current ideas include retractable, brush-like fringe on aircraft’s wings and a velvety coating on the landing gear.
4. Airbus fello’fly project
The fello’fly idea is heavily embedded in biomimicry and is based on snow goose and their “wake-energy retrieval” flight technique. In other words, geese flocks often fly in a “V” shape, which allows them to stay aloft over long distances with minimal fatigue.
3. Airbus Bird of Prey
Bird of Prey is Airbus’ concept of a hybrid-electric, turbo-propeller regional aircraft for up to 80 passengers. It is heavily inspired by soaring birds, in particular bald eagles and their long, broad wings.
Bird of Prey’s design mimics the eagle’s wing and tail structure and even has individually controlled feathers for active flight control.
The theoretical Airbus plane designs were unveiled at the Royal International Air Tattoo event in July 2019. The concept is not intended to represent an actual aircraft though, as Airbus cautions.
2. Airbus A320neo wing sharklets
All new Airbus A320neos, and some of the older A320 family planes, feature upwards-bent wingtips ‒ sharklets. They are used to reduce induced drag when an aircraft is airborne by reducing the size of the wingtip vortex.
As the sharklet name suggests, the technology is named after white sharks, in particular, their dorsal fins.
1. Airbus Beluga
This list would not be complete without the mention of the animal after which the Airbus super-transporter is named after.
While contrary to all of the concepts above, Airbus never mentioned the Beluga whale as inspiration for engineering the Beluga ST or XL, the similarity between the heavy-weight airlifted and the animal is uncanny; and widely admired.