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Why passenger jets could soon be flying in formation

September 14, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

European airplane manufacturer Airbus is conducting tests to see if flying aircraft close together could make use of "wingtip vortex" effect to make them more economical.

Those formations have also provided the inspiration for researchers at Airbus UpNext, the aircraft manufacturer's future-flight demonstration and technology incubator.

With that in mind, the Airbus fello'fly flight demonstration project will fly two large commercial aircraft in formation, looking to mimic the energy savings of our feathered friends.

Building on test flights in 2016 with an Airbus A380 megajet and A350-900 wide-body jetliner, fello'fly hopes to demonstrate and quantify the aerodynamic efficiencies while developing in-flight operational procedures.

"Pilots are trained to not fly into the vortex of a preceding aircraft," said Bour Schaeffer, an experienced flight-test engineer.

Taking advantage of the free lift in this updraft of air is called "wake-energy retrieval. " Bour Schaeffer says that upcoming flight trials using two A350s could prove that on long-haul flights, fuel savings of between 5% and 10% may be achieved, "which is an enormous number.

And just like the pelicans, the pilots of the trailing A350 in the fello'fly test will position the aircraft to optimize the effect of the upwash -- but that points to one of the challenges facing the research team.

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