A distinguishing feature of Airbus' A350-1000 will be its 105-foot wings.
The big wing fight is starting.
Airbus has started building the first wings for its new A350-1000, the largest of the new line and the jet that will most directly compete with Boeing’s planned 777-9X.
The two aircraft will be the largest twin-engine jets in the sky, with similar range, the primary difference being that the Boeing jet will carry about 50 more people.
In a sense the pivotal difference between the two will be their wings, because both source their engines from the same manufacturers, and fuselages aren’t so critical to performance.
“It’s one of the most closely held secrets,” said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst for the Teal Group, outside Washington, D.C., about wing design. “In doing the longest ranges that are typical today, the distinguishing characteristic is the very big wing, and very efficient wing.”
Addison Schonland, partner at aviation consultancy AirInsight, said the two companies are neck-and-neck in wing design.
“The 777X and 350 will represent the state-of-the-art wing design from both companies,” he said. “I would say the 777X and the 350 wings will be comparable — close in terms of aerodynamic efficiency.”
While the A350 wing currently holds the mantle of largest carbon composite wing, at 105 feet for each wing, that will be superseded by the 777X wing, which will be 106 feet long; it extends to 117 feet with a unique folding wingtip.
Both the Airbus and Boeing wings are relatively long and thin, which makes them more efficient than those on conventional planes and which is made possible by the structural strength of carbon composites.
How well these aerospace rivals render the wings will say much about how well the aircraft perform, in terms of fuel efficiency, sales and profits.
An earlier version of the A350 wing already has entered service, in smaller models, although an Airbus statement said the new wing is quite different.
“Ninety percent of the parts have been modified, and the trailing edge has been extended to resize the wing for the additional payload and range,” Airbus said.
Boeing executives have said the new Everett-built 777X wing will be essentially a scaled-up version of the 787 Dreamliner wing, which Aboulafia called “superbly engineered.”
A tricky bit for Boeing will be the folding wingtip, which was Boeing’s approach to sizing the plane to fit in the same airport gates as current 777s, while improving efficiency.
“In terms of the two wings, the Boeing wing is going to have a folding tip because it will be so big,” Schonland said. “It’s a complex and weighty issue Boeing will have to be very clear about.”
(Steve Wilhelm - Puget Sound Business Journal)