In an interview to Denis Darracq, there are some examples on how the nature remains a source of inspiration to Airbus to reduce fuel consumption, develop new materials or design the wing surface.
For instance, with regard to the external forms of the aircraft, the laws of aerodynamics "are acquired from the nature".
In a macroscopic axis, the A350 XWB considers the actively deformation of the surfaces to provide the best aerodynamic performance and control of load for each flight conditions; takeoff, climb, cruise, approach, landing, maneuver, turbulence-encounters, etc.
This is what birds, fish and marine mammals perform beautifully, called "morphing". The idea is to move from a 'rigid' world to flexibility and adaptation technologies.
In another more microscopic axis, concerns the new surfaces and new materials that have, for example, self-cleaning properties, healing properties, very low adhesion properties (against icing of the wings) or low aerodynamic friction.
More examples of the aeronautical biomimicry applied in the A350 XWB:
Evolved birds have developed a mechanism of local active control of the air-flow over the wing. This same principle is applied to the wing of the A350 through the extension of spoilers on the wing which ensures the bearing pressure checking the meeting of wind gusts.
Deployment and retraction of hypersustentations (flaps, slats) in low-speed systems allow to control simultaneously the braking (aerodynamic drag) and elevation (lift).
The almost vertical (or winglets) fins wing end improve the effectiveness of the flight for a given scale are directly inspired by the shape of the wings of the Steppes-Eagle.
"In the field of new materials, marine animal-world can teach us a lot. The skin of sharks is not smooth but rather composed of microscopic structures in the form of grooves. Detailed studies have shown that these structures reduce the friction of flow on the shark thus improving its efficiency and speed. Flight tests have confirmed that such surfaces reduce effectively aerodynamic friction, so the consumption and the CO2 emissions from aircraft. About 70% of the surface of the aircraft could be covered. The reduction in drag and thus fuel consumption would be significant, with a single-digit percentage gain, what remains a performance for highly optimized products from an aerodynamic perspective as our aircraft."
However, it remains challenging to solve issues like manufacturing and maintenance (resistance to erosion) of fuselage panels. Several technical options are under analysis: adhesive surfaces, special paints or a particular surface-treatments.
Based on the article "La nature reste-t-elle toujours une source d’inspiration pour les avionneurs?" published in Usine Nouvelle.