Paris Air Show

Paris crowds in awe as A380 takes a bow

 - December 15, 2006, 9:25 AM

The mammoth A380 made a triumphal arrival on the Paris Air Show’s center stage here yesterday morning. Airbus’ long-awaited double-decker airliner drew exhibitor set-up staff from the halls and chalets to marvel as it gracefully (and almost silently) appeared on the Le Bourget horizon.

Le Bourget’s was only the third runway (after those at Toulouse and the Istres national flight-test center) to have received the jetliner, when it landed here at the end of its 22nd flight. It has now logged more than 100 flight hours in a test program that began in early May.

As if to provide a proper context in which to view the machine, the A380 was parked alongside the Boeing 747 and 777 and a slightly smaller McDonnell Douglas DC-10. The aircraft flew again later in the day for its display routine to be validated by the flying control committee.

Today, show visitors have two bites of the cherry, with the A380 slated to fly during the visit this morning of French President Jacques Chirac as well as at the beginning of the afternoon flying display, said Airbus flight test vice president Fernando Alonso.

The A380’s routine here is flown at a weight of 705,600 pounds and replicates that of the A340-600–including a slow pass and tight turns (to show off its wing planform), but without the steep climbing turn and stomach-wrenching pushover in what Alonso termed the A340’s “quite aggressive” repertoire. The A380 landing gear remains down throughout the display since it is still early in the flight test program and undercarriage retraction [and subsequent lowering] takes “a little time,” said Airbus.

Airbus has built up a lot of flight test information since saying just two weeks ago it would bring the A380 to Le Bourget. While the aircraft remains here with a daily flying slot, flight test engineers in Toulouse are continuing to analyze telemetry data generated in daily flights during the past fortnight.

Aircraft flights will increase by almost 50 percent during this week as the number grows from 21 before its arrival here to more than 30 before it returns to Toulouse.

Alonso told Aviation International News that dispatch reliability has been demonstrated by the A380’s having been available for flight at 8 a.m. every morning last week. “Obviously, if there had been a problem we would not have come. This is an interruption [to the test program] but we are very confident.”

Supporting that assurance is the flight test team’s evident pleasure at the aerodynamic performance and daily availability for flight. About 10 or 12 pilots and a similar number of engineers, including European Aviation Safety Agency personnel, have taken part in the program, which has recorded more than 100 flight hours.

Typically, the A380 is airborne for four to five hours a day. A first flight problem with landing gear door microswitches was not resolved during the first half-dozen flights but has been cured by rerigging the equipment.

Alonso said there also has been difficulty with fuel pumps, which for the moment has been overcome by changing the units. Accordingly, one of the next tests will be to fly the aircraft with automatic fuel management since control has been performed manually thus far.

Another issue identified by Alonso was an oil-consumption problem with one of the four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines. He said electrical and hydraulic systems were working well; the brakes were “very smooth,” but maximum braking had yet to be tested.

Last week, Airbus confirmed the 375-knot dive speed. The A380 has a maximum operating velocity (Vmo) of 340 knots and maximum operating Mach number (Mmo) of 0.89. If the performance test results continue to be good, Alonso expects that Airbus will move quickly–perhaps earlier than scheduled–to confirm the minimum takeoff velocity (Vmu).

Most flights have been conducted by senior vice president and experimental test pilot Claude Lelaie or chief test pilot Jacques Rosay. All takeoffs have been flown manually, but the automatic landing system has been used for 13 landings, said Alonso.

In contrast to its light demonstration weight here at le Bourget, the A380 has been operated at a maximum takeoff weight of almost 1,220,000 pounds and a maximum landing weight of nearly 1,125,000 pounds, said Lelaie.    o