BLADE-UK Development and qualification of a structural concept for a large transport aircraft low drag, natural laminar flow wing for large scale flight testing



Airflow over an object can be described as either turbulent or laminar. Laminar flow as applied to an aircraft has the benefit of reducing drag and hence fuel consumption which in turn reduces the carbon footprint of the aircraft. Practical achievement of extensive laminar flow on a wing has been a ‘holy grail’ for aerodynamicists for decades.
As part of the European ‘Clean Sky’ initiative a high speed demonstrator developing a wing structure that exhibits laminar flow (passive) was authorised. From this the BLADE (Breakthrough Laminar flow Aircraft Demonstrator Europe) programme was born. The scope of the programme was to design, develop, manufacture and assemble a completely new 10 metre laminar section of wing and assemble this to the 340 MSN001 flight test aircraft. There are 7 partners in this programme – ASCO, GKN, INCAS, DASSAULT, SAAB, AERNNOVA and AIRBUS. Within Airbus engineers from Germany, France, Spain and the UK will all contribute to this programme. A small team of engineers based at Filton coordinate and integrate the activities of all the partners in addition to undertaking some of the specific design work. Much work has already been accomplished, with structural concepts defined and with manufacturing and engineering development tests underway.
Specific system installations for the new wing section have been redefined and extensive flight test instrumentation has been catered for. Component and assembly tooling has commenced with the tools for the carbon fibre reinforced plastic upper covers already completed. The next stage of development will involve further component testing and the freezing of the design of the upper wing covers. The current schedule is leading to the completion of the full laminar wing section to be ready for the flight testing in late 2016.
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The flight tests should be complete in 2017. When the flight tests are complete the aircraft has to be returned to its original structural and systems configurations. If the project is successful, and practical laminar flow achieved, then the Filton engineering team will have contributed to a significant step change in the aerodynamics of aircraft for the future.
The proposal presented here covers Airbus in the UK’s R&T activities to validate the design and development of a specific Natural Laminar Flow wing (NLF wing) structural concept, including manufacturing, assembly and testing of critical components of the wing. The geometrical dimensions of the components shall be of size similar or equal relevant for the flight test, the physical sizing, requirements with respect to stress specifically load carrying capability and the tolerances shall meet the requirements of the flight worthy wing.

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer

AIRBUS OPERATIONS LIMITED £7,206,164 £ 3,596,200




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