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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

Last updated on: June 14, 2013 13:50 IST

Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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Europe's newest passenger jet, the Airbus A350, successfully began its maiden flight on Friday. Watched by over 10,000 aircraft workers and spectators, the sleek jet with curled wingtips took off from Airbus's Toulouse facility under cloudy skies, with a crew of six wearing parachutes and orange jumpsuits and tonnes of test equipment on board.

The first sortie of Europe's newest passenger plane follows seven years of development costing an estimated $15 billion.

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Image: The flight will set the stage for fierce competition for big jet orders.
Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com

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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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It will set the stage for fierce competition for big jet orders just three days before the June 17-23 Paris Airshow.

Airbus hopes its first aircraft built mainly from lightweight carbon composites will reduce US rival Boeing's lead in the market for long-haul, wide-bodied jets where it offers the 787 Dreamliner which uses simliar technology.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com

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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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Once test crews accept the first A350 from developers, these are key steps to the first flight, based on previous programmes.

Pre-flight

i) First, engineers at Airbus headquarters near Toulouse in southern France will turn on the Auxiliary Power Unit, a small turbine engine under the tail, used for power on the ground. The test will last just one minute to see if it leaks of oil or fuel.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com

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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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ii) Crews check circuits and aircraft systems, one by one, and run the air-conditioning under APU power.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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iii) Two Rolls-Royce engines are started one after the other, again briefly at first, to detect any oil or fuel leaks.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com

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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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iv) Hydraulics and other systems run with the engines on.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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v) Engineers test "bleed air," a traditional conduit of air from the engines used for cabin pressurisation and de-icing. This is a crucial design difference with Boeing's rival 787 Dreamliner, which relies more on electrical system.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com

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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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vi) Engineers progressively squeeze power out of the engines in a "run-up" area, like a concrete paddock, with brakes on.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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vii) In parallel, the aircraft will start to move under its own power, slowly at first, and then up to 60 knots (111 km/h).

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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viii) The plane's pre-flight workout end when the six pilots and flight engineers don orange jumpsuits, parachutes and life-vests for a rehearsal, pushing the plane close to its take-off speed.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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ix) Ground mechanics carry out a thorough two-day inspection.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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First flight

Six crew with parachutes take part, three in the cockpit and three at consoles in the passenger cabin. Instead of seats, the cabin contains water vats to simulate the weight of 300 passengers. A maiden flight usually lasts four to five hours.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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Pilots need a day when wind is blowing from the west so as to use a northwesterly runway, avoiding flying over Toulouse.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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To maintain maximum control of events, test pilots take off in a fully manual "direct" mode without computer protection.

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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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The next critical milestone is when flight test crew retract the landing gear, once a safe altitude is reached. (On the A380 maiden flight in 2005, the gear failed to retract properly).

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This will determine whether they can go higher and faster to get their first feel of the aircraft in cruise conditions.

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The flight will also be the first chance to study behaviour that no simulator or wind tunnel has so far been able to predict, such as the airflow at slow speeds near the ground.

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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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A dozen flights should be enough to give a verdict on basic performance, but at least 2,000 hours of development and safety certification tests lie ahead before the A350 can enter service.

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Who will be watching?

Media - The event will be televised and is certain to be beamed back to the Paris air show if the A350 flight happens during the June 17-23 event.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Headlines will focus on the take-off but for test pilots this is surprisingly routine. Their real challenge starts later in the flight and in subsequent testing.

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Investors - Analysts say investors in Airbus parent EADS are hungry for minute details on the tests. A first flight usually supports shares, but this is not always the case.

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In the month after the first outing of the 787 in December 2009, Boeing shares rose 9 per cent, Thomson Reuters data shows.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com

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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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The almost simultaneous debut of the Airbus A400M military plane kicked off a 17-per cent one-month rally in EADS shares.

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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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But the A380 first flight in April 2005 failed to prevent a 10-per cent decline over the following month as the programme was delayed six months and EADS failed to quell management tensions.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Airbus launches maiden flight of A350

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Boeing - Few will be watching Airbus with greater interest than its US rival 5,000 miles (8,000 km) away in Seattle. It is anxious to preserve a sales edge for the 787 after a three-month grounding caused by problems with fires in batteries.

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It hopes to make a mark at the Paris air show with plans for a revamped 777 and may launch a stretched version of its 787.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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Airlines - As technology advances, new plane launches are increasingly late and some buyers are taking little on trust.

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After delays, one of those demanding hard evidence from the early testing is the head of Dubai's Emirates, Tim Clark.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com

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At stake are dozens of potential orders for a revamped Boeing 777, or an upcoming larger version of the A350, or both.

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Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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"As Airbus knows, I want to see it on its wheels with its engines running and preferably in the air," Clark said in an interview at a recent trade show.

"I am afraid I am not prepared to accept anything until I see telemetry giving performances of the engines and the fuel. The A350-1000 is definitely one that we would be looking at. But first of all - show me."


Photographs: Courtesy, airbus.com
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