'Shark skin' technology to boost aircraft efficiency

'Shark skin' technology to boost aircraft efficiency

Riblets that allow great whites to slide through the water are being tested by Lufthansa on its planes
A shark skin-like, friction-lessening material could help airlines save money.

They've been banned from Olympic swimming pools, but shark skin suits might reappear in the air, thanks to a new initiative from Lufthansa.

The German carrier has partnered with Airbus and the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials (IFAM) to test a new surface coating that mimics shark skin on two Airbus A340-300s.

It's part of a two-year long research project that started in the summer 2011, and will conclude this year.

The new technology mocks the riblet effect of a shark's skin in aircraft paints -- tiny riblets on the surface reduce flow resistance when moving at speed.

It's not the first time shark skin has inspired human design, as Michael Phelps and Jenny Thompson demonstrate.

Swimmers got there first

The same technology has previously been tested on ships and more famously was used by Michael Phelps and other competitive swimmers, until it was banned by The International Swimming Federation.

Latest research indicates that shark skin structures can reduce fuel consumption by about 1 percent and lower operating costs.

Eight 10 x 10 centimeter patches of the special lacquer coating have been attached to the fuselage and wings of the two aircraft.

It’s hoped that the new coating system will enhance the aerodynamics and energy efficiency of the plane.

The new coating is also dirt-repellent, UV-stable and abrasion- and erosion-resistant, according to Lufthansa Technik's research report.

Hiufu Wong is CNN Travel's staff writer.

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