June 24, 2013
The successful initial airborne maneuvers of Airbus A350 experimental test pilots Peter Chandler and Guy Magrin elicited immense relief and joy in Toulouse June 14. But the A350's first flight just three days ahead of this year's Paris air show also may well mark the end of an important chapter in aviation history.
The new Airbus long-haul aircraft, along with the Bombardier CSeries, are likely to be the last all-new, large commercial aircraft from Western manufacturers in a very long time. While Airbus and Boeing will be busy with development programs for many years to come, they are focusing on derivatives such as the Boeing 787-10 launched last week, either having just delivered an all-new aircraft (the 787) or flight-testing one (the A350). The next all-new Western jet could be as much as two decades away, as the two airframers assemble their commercially successful A320NEO and Boeing 737 MAX offerings into the 2030s and work on further upgrades or stretches of the A350, 787 and 777.
The manufacturers argue that technology is not where it should be to warrant further all-new concepts and the market success of their current and planned aircraft seems to push the next moves further out, if anything. Just how receptive airlines are to the reengining and upgrading concept was demonstrated again by Embraer's launch here of its next-generation E-Jets (see page 28) as well as the NEO and MAX orders Airbus and Boeing recorded during the show, mostly from low-fare carriers.
Eight years after the A380's first flight, Airbus is hoping to complete A350 flight tests and certification in 12-13 months. After an almost flawless first flight, Fernando Alonso, head of the Airbus flight-test center, says one of his challenges is “not to be overconfident.” Alonso, part of the A350 crew of six, describes the first flight as “totally uneventful” and “a little bit boring.”
A350 flight-test aircraft MSN001 spent 4 hr., 5 min. in the air on its initial flight. It climbed to 10,000 ft. in 8 min. and remained in the 10,000-15,000-ft. range for 2 hr., 48 min. while the crew tested the aircraft first in the most basic version of direct law and eventually in normal law.
“We went through sweeps to see how the structure reacts before we went to normal law,” Alonso says. Similar tests were performed in normal law after around 90 min., with data being checked against calculated models through telemetry. “Two hours after takeoff, we were in normal law with all configurations cleared,” Alonso says.
The crew engaged the autopilot for the last 5 min. of the cruise flight. The descent was also initiated in autopilot and autothrust mode, and buffeting effects were tested.