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Airbus’ “BLADE” demonstrator makes first flight

Airbus’ A340 laminar-flow “BLADE” test demonstrator aircraft has made its successful maiden flight for the EU-sponsored Clean Sky “Blade” project.

The aircraft, dubbed “Flight Lab”, took off from the Tarbes aerodrome in southern France at local time 11:00, and after a series of successful tests it landed at Airbus’ facilities in Toulouse Blagnac. The overall flight time was 3hrs/38mins.

The BLADE project – which stands for “Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe” – is tasked with assessing the feasibility of introducing the technology for commercial aviation.

It aims to improve aviation’s ecological footprint, bringing with it a 50% reduction of wing friction and up to five percent lower CO2 emission. Airbus’ A340 Flight Lab is the first test aircraft in the world to combine a transonic laminar wing profile with a true internal primary structure.

On the outside the aircraft is fitted with two representative transonic laminar outer-wings, while inside the cabin a highly complex specialist flight-test-instrumentation (FTI) station has been installed.

The extensive modifications to the A340-300 test-bed aircraft took place during the course of a 16-month working party in Tarbes, with the support of numerous industrial partners across Europe.

Today’s first-flight marks the kick-off of the Blade flight-test campaign to explore the wing’s characteristics in flight.

“We began by opening the flight envelope to check that the aircraft was handling correctly,” explains Airbus Flight-Test Engineer, Philippe Seve, who was on board the flight. “We achieved our objective to fly at the design Mach number, at a reasonable altitude and check everything was fine. We also checked that the FTI was working as expected, to identify further fine-tuning for the next flights.”

A key goal of Blade is to be able to measure the tolerances and imperfections which can be present and still sustain laminarity.

Airbus will simulate every type of imperfection in a controlled manner, so that at the end of the campaign the tolerances for building a laminar wing will be fully known.

The flight Lab will perform around 150 flight hours in the coming months.