Lifting off

Airbus’s A380 superjumbo made its maiden flight on 27th April. The aircraft is now going through a series of tests before entering service next year.

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By  Laura Barnes Published  May 31, 2005

|~||~||~|In 1996, 19 airlines and freighter companies met with Airbus to discuss the prospect of a new, bigger aircraft that would supersede the Boeing 747. Nearly a decade and 187 meetings with 26 carriers later, Airbus unveiled its latest offering, the A380 superjumbo in April this year. Airbus has now conducted nine flights clocking up just under 45 hours as of 20th May with flight tests now being undertaken. “The maiden flight was very emotional for us. It was not like any other first flight as it sparked interest across the world and across all segments of society, the only other aircraft to have done that is Concorde,” says Gerard Blanc, executive vice president operations, Airbus. Since 1996, Airbus has been working with a range of airlines, including Emirates since 2000 and Qatar since 2003, in order to finalise the right configuration, size, passenger load and range. As such, the superjumbo combines innovative designs and technology alongside proven and reliable systems. “As part of the A380 project, we wanted to have non-stop innovation, but we believe that this innovation should bring value not risk, so we have been working hard to achieve this,” Blanc adds. As part of its drive for innovation, the A380 is the first aircraft to use GLARE, a material made from layers of aluminium and composites, which makes the fuselage lighter and harder to fracture. In total 25% of the aircraft is made of GLARE, although the whole of the tail is designed from carbon. “The technological benefits of the A380 are outstanding, it uses advanced materials, which means fewer inspections and it also weighs less. There is also new flight control architecture and a dual hydraulic/electric flight control meaning a lighter, smaller 5000 psi hydraulic system,” says Phillippe Mhun, vice president, A380 programme, customer services. The flight deck has also been updated, although it still uses Airbus’s common cockpit it has added vertical situation awareness, airport navigation and an onboard information system. Despite this new technology and new materials being used, Airbus has also incorporated technology that it uses across its whole aeroplane range including fly-by-wire. “Being part of the A380 team also means being part of the wider Airbus family. The advantage of fly-by-wire is that although there are different type ratings, like the A320 family, the A330 models, the A340 and now the A380 CCQ family cockpit, pilots will be able to swap across the different families and type rating with only a small amount of training needed due to similar cockpit programmes,” Mhun explains. With the use of new technology, deliveries of the aircraft are expected to begin in the second half of 2006. The date has been pushed back, but Airbus expects it to only be delayed by a month or so while the aircraft undergoes advanced testing on five of the aircrafts including the MSN 1, the first A380. “Like any new aircraft, and also because of the innovations being used on the A380 we have to pass four phases in order for it to be used commercially,” says Claude Lelaie, test pilot. “Step one is preliminary testing for air distribution, noise, cooling systems and lighting. Stage two is early long flights with employees. Step three is development, corrections and fine tuning and finally there is route proving with 300 flight hours with our customer airlines,” he adds. Currently, the A380 is undergoing tests in phase one, with test flights being undertaken by flight test pilots and test engineers, who are responsible for aircraft configuration. During the testing telemetry is being used extensively with a realtime downlink for aircraft data. Sensors are also being placed on the wing to check for vibrations and irregular flight movements. “We have now completed several tests: flight envelope opening, stall warning up to maximum operational speed and maximum altitude (FL430). In the pipeline for the next few months however, are more flight trials with aircraft MSN 4, MSN 2, MSN 7 and MSN 9, all of which have been earmarked for Etihad once deliveries begin,” says Lelaie. “We still have a lot of testing ahead of us, and on-going work at the moment is based around stall testing, flight control evaluation, autopilot, cruise performances and initial systems development. However, by the Paris air show we hope to be testing up to three or four flights a week so we are clearly making headway,” comments Lelaie. Although the bulk of flight testing for the passenger version will be completed within a year, Airbus has not stopped there as it has already sold 20 A380 freighter aircraft, which it has been working on since 1996 with Emirates and Lufthansa. A detailed concept and digital mock up have been created and in April discussions were held over the necessity of an upper deck loader for the freighter version. Looking further into the future Airbus hopes to launch a stretched A380 but extension of hangar space needs to be looked at, as well as the operating costs: “The stretched version will arrive after we have created a complete family range for the A380. There will be an A380R and an A380-900 as well. Although we have had some interest already we will pace ourselves. The long range will be launched in 2010 and the stretched will probably arrive in 2015, so we are still in early stages with this,” says Charles Champion, executive vice president, A380 programme. “We have a lot to look forward to in the future. Granted, we [Airbus] still have our faults, but we have 50% of the market and our second strength is the A380. The problems that people hear about Airbus are nothing compared to what the superjumbo will do to the industry. The maiden flight will be as important in the future as the Lindenburgh flight is now,” concludes Blanc.||**||

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