The long wingspan, up to 12 feet, of the wandering albatross makes for very fuel efficient flight, enabling the bird to soar great distances without expending much energy.
Copying nature, aircraft designers seek to make their planes more fuel efficient by extending the wingspan. The Solar Impulse HB-SIA solar-powered plane, for example, takes this to the extreme with a 208ft wingspan on tiny 1.6ton body, a ratio of 0.78in/lb [inches wingspan per pound of body weight]. The Wandering Albatross does much better with a ratio of 5in/lb. Another example of modern aircraft design, the currently-under-development Boeing 777x, has a wingspan of 234ft, which will make it more fuel efficient than the current Boeing 777, with a 212ft wingspan.
There’s only one problem with a wingspan of 234ft: It also takes up more space. Much like the wandering albatross requires a sizable nest to land in, the Boeing 777x wouldn’t fit very well in some airports. Could we say that the aircraft’s designers are borrowing from the albatross again? Unlike fixed-wing aircraft, the fuel efficient wandering albatross can fold up his wings when he goes to roost. He’ll still need plenty of space to land, but his nest doesn’t have to be 12ft across. The new Boeing 777x’s wingtips, therefore, fold up when on the ground.
When taxiing on the ground, the Boeing 777x’s 234ft wingspan is reduced to 212ft, just like the standard 777. Taking advantage of lighter composite materials and the folding wingtip design, saving 11ft on each side of the aircraft, the Boeing 777x is more fuel efficient, but still fits in the same space as the standard 777.
Images © Chantal Steyn / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND | Boeing