Aircraft

Shark-skin-inspired film immediately drops airliner fuel consumption

Shark-skin-inspired film immed...
International airline Swiss will be covering all 12 of its Boeing 777s with a shark-skin-inspired film that can reduce drag and fuel consumption by more than 1 percent
International airline Swiss will be covering all 12 of its Boeing 777s with a shark-skin-inspired film that can reduce drag and fuel consumption by more than 1 percent
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International airline Swiss will be covering all 12 of its Boeing 777s with a shark-skin-inspired film that can reduce drag and fuel consumption by more than 1 percent
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International airline Swiss will be covering all 12 of its Boeing 777s with a shark-skin-inspired film that can reduce drag and fuel consumption by more than 1 percent
The AeroShark film is easy to apply, and extremely durable against the weather and UV exposure it's going to need to deal with
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The AeroShark film is easy to apply, and extremely durable against the weather and UV exposure it's going to need to deal with

Zero-emissions airliners are still a long way off, but Lufthansa and BASF have developed a way to improve things right now. AeroShark is an adhesive riblet film that immediately reduces fuel consumption, and therefore emissions, from any aircraft.

Millions of years of evolution moved the ocean's most feared predators away from perfectly smooth skin. Instead, sharks have very slightly ribbed skin, which reduces drag enough to become an advantage. What works in hydrodynamics often translates well to aerodynamics, so the AeroShark team moved to emulate the texture on the exterior of large aircraft.

The resulting film doesn't sound like a radical difference; the millions of prism-shaped "riblets" on the AeroShark film's surface are no more than 50 micrometers (1/20th of a millimeter, 2/1000ths of an inch) high. But that's enough to make a difference in fuel consumption; international airline Swiss has calculated that if 950 square meters (10,225 sq ft) of this film is applied to a Boeing 777, in specific patterns and aligned with the airflow around the fuselage and engine nascelle surfaces, the reduced drag immediately reduces fuel consumption by 1.1 percent.

The AeroShark film is easy to apply, and extremely durable against the weather and UV exposure it's going to need to deal with
The AeroShark film is easy to apply, and extremely durable against the weather and UV exposure it's going to need to deal with

Thus, Swiss is sticking AeroShark on all 12 of its 777s, in a move it says will save a staggering 4,800 tonnes of jet fuel a year, reducing CO2 emissions by some 15,200 tonnes in the process. Lufthansa had previously announced it will roll it out on its entire cargo freight fleet as well – a further 10 Boeing 777s, representing 3,700 tons of jet fuel savings and 11,700 tonnes of CO2 emissions avoided every year. The AeroShark team says it's likely to be slightly more effective on cargo planes that don't have window rows to work around.

The team says it's easy to apply, and extremely resilient to UV radiation, water, oil, and the large temperature and pressure shifts you get on the exterior of long-haul aircraft. It's already been tested with more than 1,500 flight hours, on a Boeing 747-400, a modification that was certified by EASA. Applying it to wing surfaces can also help generate extra lift.

Lufthansa Technic and BASF are working to develop the technology further and roll out applications for other aircraft types, and the team says this sharkskin-inspired film could eventually be improved to reduce fuel burn and emissions by up to 3 percent.

Clearly, this kind of drag reduction tech will have relevance beyond the current era of kerosene-powered flight as well.

Check out a video below.

AeroSHARK - Cutting emissions with sharkskin technology

Source: Swiss / Lufthansa Technik

15 comments
15 comments
Grelly
This has been known for some time. Nice to see someone is actually applying it.

I am curious to know what is does to the icing characteristics of the surfaces.
Pranav Vissanji
What about the additional weight? Wouldn't that bring us back to square one?
JuMo
Hmmm.... with those marginal gains is anyone looking at the full end to end lifecycle of this product and it's own carbon footprint? I certainly hope so...
windykites
Would the extra weight increase fuel consumption, thereby negating the effect? It could be coloured, to save painting the surfaces
Steve Jones
Presumably, this would also work for most other vehicles, but for passenger cars may not make economic sense.
Given that the idea was born in hydrodynamism, is there scope for attaching it to cargo (and other) shipping?
MonacoJim
This has been around at least 20 years, I think Atlas did a mention back then, it would be good for them to dig it up and put the SwissAir thing in context. Admittedly, it was micro grooves in the adhesive clear plastic, more a kin to finger prints if I recall correctly, however the principal was the same. Maybe its the addition of BASF into the endeavour thats made the difference in uptake, this time?

Oh hang on its the same old micro grooves as of 20 years ago! They havent even bothered to replicate the shark skin triangles. Well thats just lazy innovation. (to paraphrase the film DeadPool).
Koziol
Seems like a better plan would be to incorporate the shark skin design into the aircraft skin to save additional weight and get additional reduced drag. The biggest problem would be the manufacturing process to remove aluminum through a chemical etching process precise enough to get the shark skin effect without reducing the strength of the aluminum structure.
sidmehta
All 1% does is make bean-counters happy. Northwest saved half a million dollars by cutting limes in to 16 slices instead of 10. Stop nickel and dime solutions. The risk in such marginal ideas is it get people feeling good that "they are doing something" but all they saved is 1% in emissions. Let's do something truly meaningful instead of marginal.
jeronimo
This is old technology developed by 3M in the 80's. In 1986, they covered the 12m race yacht "Stars & Stripes" in the stuff and claimed this was the edge that won the Americas Cup in Perth.

1% is nothing, and not worth the bother of covering a whole plane in the stuff. They figured this out 35 years ago.
WaterCFD
Current cost of Jet-A is ~$816/tonne multiply by 4800 tons = ~~$3.9 million. If you drag is lower, you can fly further or carry less fuel. You put less stress on the airframe components with lower drag, less stress on the engines. etc. etc. Even with the added weight, they are saving fuel... It will be more effective on longer haul aircraft that use proportionally more fuel, hence the focus on heavy haul.
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