EADS (OE13) is showing a simple device for achieving laminar air flow that promises to cut drag by about 0.3%, potentially saving huge quantities of fuel for airline operators.
The device, on display at the Innovation Centre in EADS's Farnborough pavilion, weighs just 100g and can be bonded to the leading edge at the root chord and at each slot flap to reattach air flow. And, says research engineer Martin Muir, who is helping to develop the device at EADS Innovation Works in Filton, all that's needed for flight testing on an A330 or A340 is the chief engineer's go-ahead - so the gadget could be airborne imminently.
This technique for slashing drag was conceived in the 1960s by renowned aerodynamicist Professor Michael Gaster of Queen Mary's College in London, but the computer power needed to refine the shape has only recently been available. And, says Muir, another key factor in bringing the project to reality, with continued input from Gaster, is additive layer manufacturing, which allows hundreds of the devices to be manufactured "ridiculously cheaply". EADS is making the devices from titanium powder, which in addition to keeping the mass very low resists the pitting typical of exposure on leading edges, an important factor for an attachment designed to smooth air flow.
Wind tunnel tests have proven the concept, but a test aircraft will be fitted with strain gauges to accurately measure drag reduction in flight conditions such as icing.