Airbus began the 2,500-hour flight-test program for its new A350 XWB when the new long-range widebody took off for the first time at almost exactly 10:00 a.m. local time in Toulouse, France on Friday. The eagerly awaited first flight over southwestern France lasted slightly more than four hours and the twinjet, powered by Rolls-Royce’s Trent XWB engines, safely touched down back in Toulouse at 2:05 p.m.
The first-flight aircraft (registered as F-WXWB) is one of five A350s that will be used in a test program that should see the new A350-900 version enter service with Qatar Airways in the second half of 2014. On board was a team of six, with the cockpit occupied by Airbus chief test pilot Peter Chandler, A350 XWB project pilot Guy Magrin and project test flight engineer Pascal Verneau. Working at test stations in the main aircraft cabin were Fernando Alonso, head of Airbus’s flight and integration test center, Patrick du Ché, head of development flight tests, and Emanuele Costanzo, Rolls-Royce’s lead flight test engineer for the Trent XWB turbofan.
After an initial cruise at 13,000 feet, the A350’s landing gear was successfully retracted before it climbed to 25,000 feet above the Pyrenees mountains. The aircraft was accompanied by an Aerospatiale SN-600 Corvette chase airplane to observe and film the various maneuvers. The A350’s progress was monitored by staff on the ground in real-time via a direct telemetry link.
Three versions of the A350 XWB will go into production, with seating for between 270 and 350 passengers in three-class cabin configurations. According to Airbus, the new model will burn 25 percent less fuel than existing aircraft in its class, with equivalent reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Airbus expects the widebody airliner to enter service in the second half of next year with launch customer Qatar Airways. The program is currently backed by firm orders for 613 aircraft from 33customers.
Airbus would not comment on rumors that the A350 might make a surprise fly-past appearance this week here at Le Bourget Airport during the Paris Air Show.