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A380, World's Largest Commercial Aircraft, Successfully Completes Maiden Flight

  • Friday, 29th April 2005
  • Reading time: about 6 minutes

Aviation history was made earlier this week when the first A380, the world’s largest commercial aircraft utilising composite technology, successfully completed it’s first test flight.

The first A380 to take to the air landed at Blagnac international airport in Toulouse, France at 14.23 local time after successfully completing its first flight that lasted three hours and 54 minutes.

Carrying the registration F-WWOW and powered by four Rolls Royce Tent 900 engines, A390’s maiden voyage was witnessed by more than 50,000 people who lined the grass banks next to the runway. The take-off was also broadcast live on television and thousands watched via a giant screen in Toulouse’s main square.

Prior to taking off, the A380 – designed to carry as many as 840 people between major airports – had successfully completed a series of ground tests, which started in the summer of 2004 when the electrical power was put on for the first time (so-called “”power-on”” milestone). Since then Airbus has systematically tested all A380 systems, from hydraulics to electrics, and all parts of the airframe structure, including static testing and wing and fuselage load testing; a programme that has been carried out over thousands of hours at centres across France, Germany and the UK.

Airbus has optimised the A380’s flight performance and economics by incorporating cutting-edge technologies in systems and materials. It benefits from the significant weight savings brought about by composites and other advanced materials which comprise 25 percent of its structure, 22 per cent of which is carbon fibre reinforced plastic and three per cent GLARE (a glass fibre-aluminium laminate, which is used for the first time on a civil airliner) and from the weight, reliability and cost benefits of new systems such as its 5,000 psi pressure hydraulic system.

A380 Launch – in flight

Also for the first time the aircraft has a composite centre wing-box, a crucial primary structure which connects the wings to the fuselage. Another first is the composite rear fuselage section behind the composite rear pressure bulkhead. As well as these composites the A380 has a significant proportion of advanced metallic materials which also offer advantages such as ease of repair and maintenance. The A380 will benefit from the long term durability of composite materials as CFRP does not suffer fatigue or corrosion in service. GLARE, which is used for the upper fuselage shells, has also been proved to be extremely resistant to fatigue and corrosion.

According to Airbus, the A380 has around a 13 percent lower fuel burn over Boeing’s 747 and is the first long-haul aircraft to consume less than 3 litres of fuel per passenger over 100 km – said to be as efficient as an average family car. The large number of carbon fibre components and fuel-efficient technology also mean the cost per passenger should be up to 20 percent less than on a 747.

The A380’s first flight was jointly captained by Claude Lelaie, Senior Vice President Flight Division, and by Chief Test pilot and Vice President Jacques Rosay. The other crew members were Fernando Alonso, Vice President Flight Division, Flight Test Engineering who led a team of two other flight test engineers, Jacky Joye and Manfred Birnfeld, and test flight engineer Gérard Desbois.

Jacques Rosay, one of the test pilots, commented shortly after landing that “”within the first minutes of the flight, we were impressed by the ease of handling of the aircraft which was in line with what we had felt in the simulator. We have no doubt any Airbus pilot would feel immediately at home in the A380; it is a true member of the Airbus aircraft family. We could also appreciate that the new features in the cockpit, including interactivity, vertical display, new interfaces that make the work of the crew very easy and efficient and I want to thank the customer airline pilots who have greatly contributed to this design.””

The A380 took off at a weight of 421 tonnes / 928.300 lbs, the highest ever of any civil airliner to date. During the flight, which took the aircraft around South West France, the six crew members explored the aircraft’s flight envelope as expected. They tested the A380’s handling using both direct and normal flight control laws with the landing gear up and down, and with all flaps’ and slats’ settings during the part of the flight at cruise altitude. They also made an initial evaluation of the comfort levels in both the main and upper decks, confirming that the cabin was very quiet and the ride smooth.

Most of the tests will be carried out at 10,000 feet and within 100 miles of Toulouse, said Peter Chandler, deputy project pilot for the A380. Further adding that the plane was flying with its wheels down as a safety measure, and that the A380’s hydraulics and electrics had all been tested while it was on the ground.

A380 Landing

This maiden voyage, during which all primary flight test objectives were met, marks the beginning of a rigorous test flight campaign involving five A380s, including one for the certification of the Engine Alliance GP7200 engine on the A380, and some 2,500 flight hours. It will culminate in the aircraft’s certification followed by its entry into airline service in the second half of 2006 with first operator Singapore Airlines.

During the entire development phase, much work was done to ensure that the large double-decker A380 will be able to operate on existing runways capable of accepting the 747, with no requirement for any significant infrastructure adaptation. Airbus predicted that some 60 airports will be ready to welcome A380 operations by 2010, and more will join as the number of operators continues to increase in the coming years.

To date, the 555-seat A380, has appealed to 15 customers who have announced firm orders and commitments for a total of 154 A380 family aircraft, comprising 127 passenger aircraft from 13 customers and 27 freighters from four customers. The freighter version of the A380, the A380F, will enter into service in 2008. Airbus have suggested that by 2016, the A380 will account for one in eight flights out of Heathrow

More than a year of flight-testing and certification-programme work will now follow before the A380 starts commercial services.

A380 Facts:
Typical passenger/cargo load (tonnes) 555
First + (Business +) Economy layout (22+96+437)
Maximum passenger load 853

With typical passenger/cargo load (15,000 km) 9,700 miles (Boeing 747=7900 miles)
Number of engines 4 (Trent 900 or GP7200)

Fuselage diameter (m) 7.14 (horiz)
Overall length (m) 72.7
Wingspan (m) 79.8
Overall height (m) 24.1
Wing area (sq m) 846
Wing sweep (degrees) 33.5
Typical cruise speed (Mach) 0.85
Maximum operating speed (Mach) 0.89

(Standard and highest option)
Maximum take off weight (tonnes) 560
Maximum landing weight (tonnes) 386

150 Tonnes (Boeing 747 56 Tonnes)
Maximum payload (tonnes) 84 (Structural)
Maximum fuel capacity (litres) 372,000
A380 consumes 12 percent less fuel per passenger than 747. A380 claim that the A380 will be the first long-haul aircraft to consume less than three litres of fuel per passenger over 100 km, a rate comparable to an economical family car.

COST of A380 is £150m each compared to Boeing’s 747 which cost £107.

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