Shark skin coating could reduce aircraft drag

Researchers in Germany have developed a technique to emboss the structures of shark skin into aircraft paints.

The team, from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials, believes the new state of the art coating could reduce fuel consumption by about 1%.

The researchers first set out by gluing sheets of plastic imitation shark skin to the aircraft's exterior, but found that this added too much weight.

"It was also difficult to stick the foil to curved surfaces without creasing and wrinkling," said project leader Volkmar Stenzel.

"Another problem was that aircraft have to be stripped of their paint and re-coated every five years, and that was just not possible with these foils."

As such, the team set about on a two year trial with Germany's biggest airline, Lufthansa, to test the properties of shark skin in flight.

For the trials, eight 10 x 10cm patches of the new coating were painted on to the fuselage and wing edges of two Airbus A340-300 jets.

"The expected results have been achieved in terms of performance," said Denis Darracq, head of research and flight physics technology at Airbus. "It's now a matter of measuring operational efficiency and durability."

Laura Hopperton

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