Airplanes with 'Waggling' Wings Could be 20% More Efficient

Airplanes with 'Waggling' Wings Could be 20% More Efficient

Playing with a model airplane wing in a wind tunnel led researchers at the University of Warwick to a surprising discovery: by waggling a wing, airplanes could be up to 20 percent more fuel efficient, saving huge costs and significantly reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from air travel.

Granted, the wings of the planes themselves won't waggle, but by employing tiny jets to redirect air over the wing in a way that emulates the motion of waggling, the researchers believe they can achieve major reductions in mid-flight air drag on wings, allowing planes to fly with lower resistence and using less fuel.

"This has come as a bit of a surprise to all of us in the aerodynamics community," said Dr. Duncan Lockerby of the University of Warwick, who is leading the project. "The truth is we're not exactly sure why this technology reduces drag, but with the pressure of climate change we can't afford to wait around to find out."

Airbus S.A.S. 2005 -- H.Gousse Airbus S.A.S. 2005 -- H.Gousse


The concept is based on the tiny ridges found on sharks' bodies, which can reduce skin-friction drag by about 5 percent. But Lockerby's team thinks the micro-jet system could end up reducing skin friction drag by as much as 40 percent.

The research, which has been undertaken by scientists at four universities around the U.K, is still in a concept stage, but researchers believe they could have the wings ready for testing by 2012. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Airbus are funding the research.

The aviation industry has long been working on solutions to climate change. The global aviation industry has a huge environmental impact, and earlier this year, four airlines pushed to include the airline industry in future climate treaties, notably the Copenhagen talks scheduled for later this year. The United Kingdom's air industry has set a goal of reducing its emissions per passenger by 50 percent in 2020; at the end of last year Sustainable Aviation released a report projecting a leveling-off of climate intensity for the British airline industry.

Dragonfly photo CC-licensed by Flickr user challiyan.