The Airbus through the eyes of nature

Aerodynamics – The Airbus through the eyes of nature

Airplanes, they have already been developed since 1903 by the well know Wright-brothers.
They were the first who made fixed-wing power flight possible.
From that moment on the research on airplanes has never stopped.
They even  reached a peak when being used for military purposes in WW1 and WW2.

Later on, human transport became more important as well the research into new efficient, comfortable airplanes.

One of the major problems of airplanes is the drag of wind. By reducing the drag of an airplane the efficiency, concerning consuming energy, could be remarkably reduced!

This is where nature comes in hand, especially biomimicry. Biomimicry tries to imitate nature for creating human applications and technologies.

The Airbus airplanes are examples where aeronautical innovations have been applied which were inspired by nature.

Sea birds have the special ability that they can sense turbulence variations in air by their beaks.
They will react on these fluctuations by adjusting the shape of their wing feathers to suppress the lift.
The Airbus A350 XWB also contains such a control system. On the nose of this aircraft probes are installed to detect turbulences. When dealing with this phenomena the airplane will deploy moveable wing surfaces. Thereby the airplane will have a more efficient flight and will reduce fuel consumption and emmission

Another well know phenomena in literature is the shark skin. Even though sharks move through another fluid like water their groovy skin concept has been examined over 30 years. Sharks have little microscopic grooves on their skin. Those groves ensure the smooth movement through water. Because of the low drag induced, it looks like the shark can slide through water.
This riblet concept is adapted to aerospace engineering and will be applied in the construction of the Airbus. Thereby the airbus will minimise the energy it expands in motion and reduce fuel consumption.

These two examples were just a glimpse of the biomimicry used on the Airbus. There are several other concepts used to optimize the new aircrafts of tomorrow. But those weren’t all related to aerodynamics. If you are interested you can find them at the link below.


For me it’s fascinating how nature behaves and how we, people, can learn from plants and animals to optmize several human applications. Even though they look quite simple they have a lot of underlying secrets!

This were just some examples of biomimicry. Can you come up with some examples which were useful for human applications?



  1. Very fascinating indeed. It made me wonder: how is the shark-skin-groove principle applied on the Airbus?

    Also: are moveable wing areas used to suppress the lift force or minimize the drag force? If they suppress the lift force, how did airplane engineers deal with unexpected lift before they used moveable wing areas?


  2. A principle of the sharkskin has been applied for decades in aviation already: vortex generators.

    They are the tiny little protrusions on the wing (usually on the front and before movable surfaces like ailerons and flaps) which cause a turbulent flow. This is because the separation of a laminar flow in the boundary layer causes higher drag than a turbulent flow in the boundary layer. A sharkskin does just the same: make the lower boundary layer a turbulent flow to reduce drag.

    As to the movable wing areas: it uses a PID controller with a Kalman filter to predict turbulences, and moves the ailerons (to counter roll) and elevator (to counter pitch) in order to counteract the turbulent movement. This does indeed improve passenger comfort.

    As to thijskestens: before such algorithms were available, and before fly-by-wire was introduced, you just rode out the ride in the turbulence in large aircraft. In small aircraft the pilot (usually) tries to counteract the turbulence (or ride it in the case of gliders), as they can flip your plane upside down in a second if you’re not paying attention!

    As a further example of biomimicry: look to the end of the wing. Winglets are directly inspired by birds who crease their wings upward on the far end.

    However, there is also a downside to all these improvements (especially winglets): they reduce fuel burn a lot in lower speeds, but at high speeds the drag induced by the larger aerodynamic cross-section actually decreases performance and increases fuel burn. Which is why nowadays the shift for large airliners (like the 747-8, 777 and 787) goes to raked wingtips or high sweep angle blended wingtips (like the A350). Short-haul airliners use winglets because they increase climb performance and they don’t fly at +0,9 mach speeds or +30.000ft altitude.

    A quick look into the future: morphing wings. True bird like morphing and changing wings are under experimental (usually secret) development by government organisations and major aircraft constructors. Shape memory alloys and other composite-based memory shape materials provide a promising future to truly “flying like a bird”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi guys,

    That special ability to sense turbulence variations is something very interesting and innovative. 37% of the people on earth is scared to fly and you can reduce this by giving a good service and a smooth flight. I think you only can help those people by reducing the turbulences on a flight.

    maybe this URL is of interest for you guys. The biomimicry of a falcon when he is flying static in the air for what they call “praying”. Something you can investigate on a wind tunnel

    Liked by 1 person

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