Can 'sharkskin' on jets save fuel?

Lufthansa is on the last phase of tests on a new airplane coating, inspired by sharks, that will save airlines fuel.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor

Lufthansa, Germany's largest airline, is looking to inspiration from the sea to reduce fuel consumption in the sky.

The company announced earlier this month that it's testing an innovative "sharkskin" coating on two of its Airbus A340-300 jets. The inspiration for the coating design comes from the tiny riblets found in shark skin which reduce drag and allow the animal to swim more quickly through the water. Since 2011, Lufthansa has partnered with Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials (the developer of the technology) and Airbus to test the material.

Now they have placed eight 4 inch by 4 inch patches of the coating on the fuselage and the edge of the wings of the two jets to test the durability of the coating when used on aircrafts.

Earlier tests of the sharkskin technology on aircrafts failed when plastic imitation sharkskin was glued to the exterior of the an aircraft. However, as AFP reports, the material was too heavy and negated any fuel-saving benefit. But a new, lighter design was developed that embosses the imitation sharkskin into an aircraft's paint to help airlines save fuel and lower costs. Lufthansa predicts that a plane covered mostly with the sharkskin coating could reduce fuel consumption by one percent. It might not sound like a lot but the cost of the coating would be minimal compared to the savings of using less fuel, especially as fuel costs rise.

If the most recent tests are successful, we could see the aviation industry adopt this technology in the near future, AFP reports:

The trials on Lufthansa jets represent the last phase before possible industrial application, said Denis Darracq, head of research and flight physics technology at Airbus.

"The expected results have been achieved in terms of performance. It's now a matter of measuring operational efficiency and durability," Darracq said.

If the sharkskin technology sounds familiar its because it was used in swimsuits before being banned in 2009. Airlines can only hope they have similar efficiency "problems."

Aviation industry dons 'shark skins' to save fuel [AFP]

Photo: Lufthansa

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