Paris Air Show

All systems go for the world’s biggest airliner

 - December 12, 2006, 7:08 AM

Less than 50 days after the A380’s first flight, Airbus has reported an essentially satisfactory start to the very large jetliner’s test program. Preliminary results include “excellent” comfort up to the M 0.89 maximum operating Mach number, with cruise performance said to be “on target,” a spokesman said.

The Airbus team, led by senior vice president and experimental test pilot Claude Lelaie–who conducted the first takeoff on April 27, along with chief test pilot Jacques Rosay–has reported that there is “almost no” buffet with slats and flaps lowered. Flight controls feel “very good,” although some minor tuning has been required, they said.

Early flights covered exploration of the flight envelope and optimization of the aircraft configuration. Ongoing work includes airspeed and engine calibration, three-engine climb performance, initial systems and cruise evaluation, stall and flutter tests, and preliminary tests for minimum unstick speed (Vmu)–the minimum speed for each combination of weight, thrust and configuration at which a safe takeoff has been demonstrated.

Initial flight test progress reflects a busy development program. Airbus has already assembled eight airframes (including test articles), has 30 aircraft in production and has begun building the initial freighter.

The first A380–Serial Number 001–is being used for systems testing, handling assessment and automatic landing (autoland) trials. S/N 001 and S/N 004–the second to fly–carry heavy flight test instrumentation.

Airbus has planned at least a year for flight test and certification, with service entry having moved to late next year. Slippage is attributed to several factors, including delays within Airbus and late customization, such as selection of buyer-furnished equipment. S/N 004 also will join S/N 001 for autoland trials, and will be used for performance testing and propulsion system trials.

The third flying A380, S/N 002, is the first of two airframes–the other being S/N 007–to be fitted in Hamburg with complete interior equipment and systems. It will be used for initial upper- and main-deck cabin development, including internal noise. It will perform early long-range flights with representative loads of nonrevenue passengers during a six-month program that includes a series of seven- to 15-hour day-and-night flights.

S/N 002 is also earmarked for cold-weather trials and airport compatibility checks that likely will include Paris (Charles de Gaulle), Frankfurt, and London (Heathrow)–coincidentally the major airports in the three Airbus major partner countries.

S/N 007, the fourth A380 to fly, will carry a light volume of flight test instrumentation for route-proving with customer airlines and exterior-noise trials during a relatively short test period.

The fifth A380–S/N 009–will be the first with General Electric/Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance GP7200 engines, whose testing likely will extend into 2007. A second GP7200-powered A380 with a full passenger cabin interior is scheduled to join the program for route-proving trails with this engine.

As development continues apace, A380 program executive vice president Charles Champion pointed to several achievements in a busy past 12 months: “Both test specimens have been assembled. All static-test limit loads have been performed, test benches are operating in France, Germany and the UK, and all development aircraft are in final assembly.”

Parts manufacture began on A380 S/N 028 in mid-May, with sections of S/N 021 complete. In addition, A380F freighter detailed design is under way, first metal having been cut two months ago, said Champion.

Freighter final assembly is scheduled for the third quarter of next year, ahead of a mid-2007 first flight. The company will continue development with S/Ns 037 and 053, and it expects to achieve type certification with Engine Alliance GP7200 engines in April 2008.

Two months ago, an Airbus industry working group comprising airlines, ground support equipment manufacturers, handling agents and standardization bodies completed a review of upper deck cargo loading. The group has identified airline requirements, reviewed operational practices and agreed on functional specifications.

Key events in the coming year include flights with three Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered A380s and the first with GP7200 engines, and moving A380 S/N 002 to Hamburg for cabin installation. The GP7200 is expected to receive formal airworthiness approval in October this year, 12 months after the Trent 900 was certified–both powerplants being tested to 88,000 pounds thrust.

Static cell work in Toulouse will continue as Airbus prepares for ultimate load tests, while fatigue tests will begin in Germany on September 1. Champion said that under 2.5-g bending loads, the A380 wingtip deflects by 16.4 feet. Fatigue testing will be conducted to represent at least one years’ operation before type certification and, ultimately, 2.5 times aircraft design life.