Wings of change

Civil aviation opens up a world of possibilities, but also consumes too much fuel and emits greenhouse gas emissions. That needs to change. Saab has designed an aircraft wing panel that reduces wind resistance and cuts fuel consumption.

Civil aviation consumes too much fuel, and its greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 25–30 per cent over five years, according to EU guidelines. At the same time, air traffic noise should also be reduced. Saab’s innovative development work in aircraft design can help to bring the necessary changes.

A team of 30 aerodynamics experts, design engineers and composite engineers at the company have developed a new way of designing and manufacturing aircraft wings in carbon-fibre-reinforced composites. In May 2015 the first complete, nine-metre-long wing panel was finished at Saab in Linköping, Sweden. Unlike a standard aircraft wing, the panel is completely smooth – there are no waves, no joints and no rivets. Everything is cured in a single piece, with a surface that is completely smooth and glossy. All attachment points that fix the panel to the wing box itself are made of composite materials and are integrated into the underside of the wing shell.

“The completely smooth outer surface and wing leading edge reduce drag, thus facilitating airflow over the wing,” says Jonas Bohlin, technical manager for the project. “The fuel consumption is reduced, and we obtain a significant positive environmental impact.”

The first wing panel is being used to qualify the design and manufacturing processes. The next stage is for a second wing panel to be manufactured in the autumn, and later fitted to an Airbus A340 for test flights during 2017.

The project, called Smart Fixed Wing Aircraft, is part of the Clean Sky research programme. It is managed jointly by Saab and Airbus and has a total budget of almost EUR400 million (just under SEK3.7 billion). Various research initiatives are taking place within sub-projects, including the development, design and manufacture of the natural laminar flow aircraft wing.

Learn more about Clean Sky.