The Airbus A350-XWB flew for the first time this week, taking off from Toulouse, France as part of the annual Paris Air Show, writes Jason Paur in Paris for Wired.
“The airplane is behaving extremely well… all on schedule,” test pilot Peter Chandler reported during the flight, according to Airbus.
The flight marks the third time a new wide-body airliner has taken to the skies this century, and Airbus’ second time, following the first flight of the A380 super jumbo in 2005. This week’s flight met a goal Airbus set nine months ago of flying the new composite airplane before next week’s Paris Air Show.
The first flight took off under partly sunny skies in front of thousands of employees and spectators in Toulouse where the main Airbus factory is located. The crew of six, commanded by test pilot Peter Chandler flew the early part of the flight with the landing gear in the down position, a normal procedure during first flights to minimize the chance of any complications.
Once the basic flying characteristics of the A350-XWB had been confirmed, the crew retracted the landing gear about 30 minutes into the flight while flying at roughly 250 knots (288 mph) and 10,000 feet. They also made a switch in the fly-by-wire control system from “direct law” where the flight computer does exactly what the pilots tell it to do, as if there was a direct mechanical connection to the control surfaces, to “normal law” where the pilot moves the control stick and the computer decides how best to actuate the control surfaces to complete the desired maneuver.
The flight did not make it all the way to 43,000 feet, as was initially planned, with the pilots keeping the new plane under 25,000 feet due to time restrictions, according to Airbus. The company says the higher altitude and higher speed points on the flight test card would be made during the second flight.
With a wingspan of nearly 220 feet and a standard seating arrangement to accommodate around 320 passengers (and a maximum of more than 400), the A350 is more of a direct competitor to the Boeing 777, rather than its composite rival, the slightly smaller 787. Like the Dreamliner, the A350 is being sold as an efficient, quiet and modern alternative to the other airliners in the fleet. Airbus has more than 600 orders for the new jet, and even more are expected to be announced next week at the Paris Air Show.
Airbus did manage to outdo Boeing’s first flight of the 787 for the aviation geek community by broadcasting the flight live from the chase planes on YouTube (below).
Airbus says the fleet of five test aircraft will fly more than 2,500 flight test hours over the next year before the first production plane is delivered to Qatar Airways. The airplane that flew today, MSN001, will need 2-3 days of checks and servicing before it can fly again. This means Airbus could do what many have expected, and have the A350 fly over the aerospace industry gathered at the air show in Le Bourget north of Paris.