Airbus is working on a new verification aircraft project to test the idea that two commercial aircraft can fly in formation to improve flight efficiency while reducing emissions. Based on the techniques used by the birds to enable their members to fly more efficiently at high altitudes, the Fello’fly project will study how formation flight provides the flight efficiency of trailing aircraft.
When the bird flies in the “V” shape, the bird flaps its wings up and down, the surrounding air appears to flow in the opposite direction, and the birds in front provide a favorable environment for the companion at the rear. By mimicking this technology, Airbus’s in-flight verification program hopes to improve the efficiency of commercial aircraft on long-haul flights.
When an airplane flies, a lot of the energy it generates is lost in the tail. By positioning itself on the tailstream upstream, the aircraft can gain lift, which reduces engine thrust, which Airbus says can reduce fuel consumption by 5 to 10 percent, which in turn reduces emissions.
In theory, this should work, but Airbus says there are still many technical hurdles to resolve. This means that Fello’fly needs to develop pilot assistance systems to help keep aircraft in the updraft at the right distance and at a stable altitude. To this end, Airbus is working with airlines and air traffic control (ATC) providers to address the needs and solutions for air flights, including flight testing of two A350 aircraft, which will begin in 2020.