This study of Airbus is successful, civil aircraft in the future will "fly in flocks" like migratory birds

Unless man grows wings, the birds will still dominate the sky; they were, and always will always be, experts in aerodynamics.

Even though science has already tried to use supercomputers and already sensitive wind tunnels to observe the effects of air friction on objects, we still cannot achieve the realm of birds. Witness a hawk plunging over prey on the ground, two hummingbirds not fighting for territory, or as seagulls hover tirelessly for days in the sea water, aerodynamics experts from jealousy, asking how they mistakenly master the space.

Researchers at the Airbus UpNext project also looked up at the sky geese's "flying formation" and asked the same questions, only to get inspired by the creation of new flight technologies and techniques.


This Airbus study is successful, civil aircraft in the future will fly in flocks like migratory birds - Photo 2.

Will there come a time when we see civilian aircraft moving "in groups" like this?


It wasn't until a century ago that bird experts began studying the possibility of increasing the efficiency of every long-haul flight by flying in formation, then taking advantage of the wind that changes every time the bird flips its wings. Based on this principle, the Airbus project conducts testing by suggesting that large civilian aircraft fly in formation, in order to mimic the ability to save energy in flying like the "ancestors of the aviation".

Based on tests that took place in 2016 with the participation of an Airbus A380 and an A350-900 jet, experts want to demonstrate and determine the feasibility, efficiency, and development at the same time. operating rules for these particular flights.

The first official tests were conducted in March, with the participation of two A350s. The pilot program will last until next year, cooperating with Airbus, Frenchbee and SAS airlines, along with air traffic control stations and oriented service providers from France, UK and Europe. Europe is different.

“ It is very different from the air force flight formation. In fact, this has nothing to do with the line-up of close-by planes , ”Professor Sandra Bour Schaeffer, CEO of Airbus UpNext told CNN.

Flying up thanks to the tornado

An aircraft takes off will create the phenomenon of "wingtip vortex", a strong airflow blowing behind is capable of overturning small aircraft. The larger the plane, the stronger the wing-tip tornado will be.


This Airbus study is successful, civil aircraft in the future will fly in flocks like migratory birds - Photo 3.

Vortex wingtip phenomenon.


Trainee pilots learn how to avoid these tornadoes. According to Bour Schaeffer, a veteran flight test engineer, pilots " would have to fly behind a lead aircraft between 1.5 and 2 knots, slightly sideways, meaning they had to fly to the edge. of the wing-tip tornado. The air there is no longer a tornado but a gentle rotating stream of air, and we will take advantage of the airflow's lift ability .

This technique of taking advantage of lift force is called " wake-energy retrieval ", roughly translated as " awakening energy recovery ". Bour Schaeffer said that a test flight with two A350s would prove the technique's effectiveness in long-haul flights, expected to save 5-10% fuel.

“ That is a huge number. That is why we want to accelerate this research. This is not a product for sale today, but something that has a strong belief from us , ”said researcher Schaeffer.

Million years of evolution

We don't just copy birds flying in a V-shape, but we can save energy / fuel.

Birds have been flying for a million years, and the disadvantage for us is that it is difficult to conduct strictly controlled testing, " said Professor Charles Bishop from the University of Natural Sciences. Bangor said.


This Airbus study is successful, civil aircraft in the future will fly in flocks like migratory birds - Photo 4.

Bird migration squad.


However, Mr. Bishop remains optimistic when citing research written by Henri Weimerskirch in 2001, showing that pelicans are the most effective formations, not swans or geese.

In theory, their work is the only direct evidence that the great benefit of swarm flight, not hypothetical calculations based on aerodynamic models ."

Based on the results of the heart rate monitor worn by Weimerskirch for birds, Bishop states that pelicans flying in formation save energy when flapping their wings. “ Their heart rate drops by 14%, and they hover more than before. They fly easier thanks to the advantages provided by the aerodynamic effect .

Challenges in practice

Like the pelican, the pilot behind the A350 in the test also positioned the aircraft in the most aerodynamically advantageous position; But this is a big challenge for researchers.

You cannot see with your own eyes the point of the awakening energy to confirm you are flying in the right position ," said Bour Schaeffer. " We have to help pilots fly properly . " 


This Airbus study is successful, civil aircraft in the future will fly in flocks like migratory birds - Photo 5.


 Once the plane is pointing upwards, the pilot will need a self-driving system to locate it properly, in order to reduce the pilot's workload as well as avoid disturbing air parts generated by the awakened energy zone. There will be specific instructions for the two planes to move smoothly, similar to when two planes hold position during aerial refueling.

“ We need to make sure we fly in a safe formation. Any security aspects will not be ignored ”, confirmed Bour Schaeffer.

Once the concept of “awakening energy recovery” has been demonstrated effectively in the field, the parties will consider applying it to civilian flights and taking into account the possible financial impacts. According to Bour Schaeffer, it will take a lot of work to convince government air traffic services and agencies that the new way of flying is safe and must change the aviation rules to allow two aircraft. so close to each other.

“ We know that there are a lot of questions around this. Our goal is to find the answer ”, the researchers confirmed.

Responsible agency: Union of Science and High-Tech Production and Telecommunications (HTI) - Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology
Editor in chief: Vo Tran
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