DESIGN B R I EF
028 SEPTEMBER 2019
BIRD OF PREY
Regional travel is a fast-growing sector, and one that is crucial
to many parts of the world. The narrow fuselages and short flight
durations of such aircraft are no excuse for uninspiring design
though. Indeed we would like to see a vision for a future regional
aircraft that would not only create greater operational efficiencies,
but have a design that would inspire and excite flyers, as well as
the next generation of aerospace engineers.
Is it bird? Is it a plane? Well, kinda both. There can be no doubt,
however, that Airbus’s Bird of Prey design seizes the attention
and imagination. This 80-seat turboprop concept takes inspiration
from the avian world and applies it to the aviation world, in terms
of the design of materials, structures and systems.
The composite fuselage uses the geodesic construction methods
pioneered by Barnes Wallis, with the graceful arch of the wing
root inspired by the graceful arch of a raptor’s wingspan, which
combines strength with aerodynamic efficiency.
The designers have taken the avian biomimicry even further at
the extremities of the aircraft, with the wing tips evoking the tip
feathers of an eagle, the individually controlled ‘feathers’ creating
a multifunctional active flight control structure that can be adjusted
during flight to provide roll control or minimise drag.
The split tail is also a remarkable feature, with the conventional
vertical stabiliser substituted with structures akin to tail feathers,
which as well as reducing drag can be adjusted inflight to give
the pilot fine control of the aircraft. The efficient and lightweight
design, combined with hybrid-electric propulsion, give the concept
a projected range of 930 miles (1,500km) and fuel burn projected
to be 30-50% less than today’s equivalent-sized aircraft.
Airbus admits that the Bird of Prey design is not
intended to represent an actual future aircraft, but
says that it is based on realistic ideas that can
provide an insight into what a future regional aircraft
could look like. A particularly noteworthy feature
is the blended wing-to-fuselage joint that mirrors
the graceful and aerodynamic arch of an eagle or
falcon, representing the potential of biomimicry.
As Martin Aston, a senior manager at Airbus in
Bristol, UK states, “through biomimicry, nature has
some of the best lessons we can learn about design.”
Airbus has partly created the concept design to
inspire talented youngsters to become the next
generation of aeronautical engineers… and who
could fail to be inspired by such an elegant bird?”
RAPTOR IMAGE: JOACHIM NEUMANN/STOCK.ADOBE.COM