Skip to main content Skip to navigation


EPSRC/Airbus Call - The Active Aircraft

New Technologies for Active Control

Title: Novel passive techniques for reducing skin-friction drag


The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Airbus have formed a strategic partnership to fund novel engineering and science research in active control.


This Call seeks Outlines that will lead to the development of research proposals which draw upon expertise across engineering and physical sciences to create a ‘nervous system’ for aircraft, enabling airflow control, load control, health monitoring etc. Funded research will enhance UK competitiveness in civil aviation. Such technologies would be applied to help Airbus to develop technology to lower the inflight drag during flight, thereby increasing fuel efficiency and helping to meet the ACARE 2020 (Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe) target of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2020. Active control will lead to more efficient aircraft and, if the projected increase in air traffic continues, there will need to be at least a 50% reduction in fuel burn per passenger/km in order to maintain emissions at their present level.


Active control research will be applied to reducing in flight drag. The most significant factors in determining the fuel burn of modern transport aircraft are aerodynamic drag and airframe weight. Drag is usually subdivided into two primary components, one dependent on lift the other independent of lift. The drag due to lift is directly related to the aircraft configuration, speed and weight while the lift independent drag comprises of pressure drag and skin friction terms that are approximately equal in magnitude. At the flight conditions for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, the skin friction component is approximately one quarter of the total aircraft drag and therefore plays an important role in determining the overall fuel economy. Airbus has interests in developing future technologies for active control, specifically with the aim of responding to and reducing skin friction drag, with the short to medium term aim of in-flight testing by 2010.

In addition, to aid successful exploitation any collaborative research programme will expect to be actively involved with Airbus. Progress and evaluation will be an important aspect requiring regular in-depth progress reviews and direction setting. This will involve a project manager (identified as a single point of contact) within Airbus working closely with the Investigators.