Friday, 31 December 2010

Airbus draws inspiration from design in nature

Qantas Airbus A380. Image courtesy of Adrian Pingstone, Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

Engineers have often drawn inspiration from nature. The phenomenon is known as biomimicry.

Some time ago UNESCO’s newsletter A World of Science interviewed David Hills, who is Senior Manager of Flight Physics Research at the aircraft manufacturer Airbus. He says that ”nature is a library from which industry can learn”. He brought up several intriguing examples in which engineers have borrowed solutions seen in nature.

Lotus leaves have a structure that helps to keep them clean and dry even in wet conditions. Rain water does not penetrate them but takes the dirt away. Engineers have used this solution in the cabin. The plane needs less water on board, reducing the weight of the aircraft and the amount of fuel it needs.

Airbus engineers have also drawn inspiration from the Steppe eagle’s wings. According to the UNESCO newsletter:

The eagle’s wings perfectly balance maximum lift with minimum length. It can manipulate the feathers at the tips, curling them upwards until they are almost vertical to create a ’winglet’, a natural adaptation that acts as a barrier against the vortex for highly efficient flight.”

By using eagle technology, Airbus engineers have succeeded in keeping the wingspan of the A380 under 80 metres so that the plane can land on standard-sized airports. This would have been impossible without eagle technology.

The design in Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, suggests that many solutions seen in nature are more intelligent than human technology.

Unfortunately, many still deny that there is intelligent design in nature. Perhaps they should ask the engineers at Airbus.


Picard, Frederic. 2010. David Hills: ‘Nature is a library from which industry can learn’. A World of Science 8 (2): 15-16.