Airbus’ First-Ever A340 is Reborn as a FlightLab to Help Revolutionize Flying

Apr 26, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

A 2.5-decade-old aircraft has recently been reborn in a quest to revolutionize the future of aircraft wings. Airbus’ first-ever A340 aircraft (MSN001, registration F-WWAI) looks a lot different today than when it took its first flight on October 25, 1991 — almost exactly 26.5 years ago.

This rebirth has been a decade in the works. In 2008, 21 partners across eight European countries launched a partnership called the Clean Sky Joint Undertaking to develop new innovations for quieter and more efficient aircraft. One of its initial projects was the “BLADE” (Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe) project.

BLADE’s quest: a laminar flow wing design. Simply put, BLADE is trying to create a wing with a perfectly smooth airflow. Based on models, Airbus believes that a laminar flow wing design can reduce wing drag by 50% and increase fuel efficiency by 5%.

After substantial modeling, it was time to put the research to the test. So, Clean Sky’s lead partner Airbus donated its first ever Airbus A340 to the cause. The aircraft manufacturer chopped off the ends of each wing — just past the second engines. In its place, it fitted two prototype wing designs — one on the end of each of the wings. On the left, the “more innovative” Saab design. On the right, a “more traditional” GKN Aerospace design. And with that, the BLADE FlightLab was born.

As this technology is still in the experimental phase, only five crew are on board during the test flights — two pilots and three test flight engineers.

Two of the engineers sit at this station to monitor up to 1,650 different parameters during flight.

To make room for the test equipment needed to record and analyze all of those parameters, all of the seats, wall paneling and most of the overhead bins were stripped out of the interior.

Although it’s been flying since September 2017, the partnership waited until the ILA Berlin airshow to show it off to the aviation public. In a signing ceremony on Wednesday, all of the Clean Sky partners marked the occasion by signing the aircraft, one at a time.

Between its first flight in September 2017 and the conclusion of the testing in 2019, researchers plan to operate 168 hours of flight time with the new wing segments. As of today, the test aircraft has recorded 66 flight hours. From what’s being shared so far, the results have been great. Even on the first flight, the engineers were able to determine there was laminar flow over both wing designs.

That said, there’s still a long way to go, even with the initial testing — and there are challenges to overcome. One of those is insects. While the wing segments are designed to have perfect laminar flow, something as small as insects smashing against the leading edge of the wing can create airflow turbulence and decrease performance.

Image courtesy of Airbus.
Image of the signing ceremony courtesy of Airbus.

Once the initial testing is complete, the Clean Sky initiative hopes to have enough research done on the technology to create a full experimental wing with laminar flow for additional testing. So, while laminar flow wings are still a way off from commercial aviation, it’s exciting to see what innovations are in the works for even more fuel-efficient aircraft.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.