We have received delightful feedback about our recent feature of the Airbus A330neo interior design. Thanks for that! A few have asked if we knew anything innovative about the outside and structure of airplanes and fortunately that is the case.
Lufthansa Technik is working together with Airbus and IFAM (Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials) on a new kind of plane surface augmentation. They are experimenting with multifunctional coating, also known as “shark skin”.
This shark skin is a ribbed coating that is applied on top of the actual plane surface and because of its aerodynamic attributes, it reduces turbulences in the airflow. By improving the behavior when moving at speed, the shark skin, applied all over the plane, could result in savings of around one percent in kerosine fuel.
If the experiments and test runs are successful, the riblet panels are to be applied on airplanes and will then mimic the attributes of shark scales. The advantages of shark skin have been known for about 30 years but now this group of experts are backed by EU’s Clean Sky research project and are likely to succeed at what they try to achieve.
If you hear it first, one percent does not sound like much, but considering the number of flights done every day globally, even one percent could have a very positive impact on the environment and lead to lower operating costs as well. An ATAG report from 2014 states that there are 100.000+ commercial flights done every day. One percent can be a large sum of saved fuel. On the other hand, this is a low-tech innovation and does not require a huge investment up-front, so – why not?
Georg Fanta, director of airplane painting at Lufthansa, told Drake Bennett from Bloomberg, that the riblets are 50 to 60 microns wide, and 20 to 30 deep. He compares them to “grooves on an old record.”
It might sound like a futuristic project but this special kind of innovative lacquer is able to reduce drag, increase the durability of material, save fuel and money. I hope to see shark skin in action soon on airplanes. Maybe shark skin is even something for automotive industries or manufacturers building space shuttles. The future will tell.
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