A350 First Flight Puts It On Approach to Service Entry

 - June 17, 2013, 11:35 AM
The Airbus A350’s first flight on the eve of this year’s Paris Air Show signals the start of a concerted push to achieve service entry for the delayed widebody in next year’s second half. (Photo: Airbus)

Airbus began the 2,500-hour flight-test program for the A350 XWB when the new long-range widebody took off for the first time at almost exactly 10 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 Trent XWB engines, touched down safely 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 slated to see the A350-900 version enter service with Qatar Airways in next year’s second half. The program is currently backed by firm orders for 613 aircraft from 33 customers.

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 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 the aircraft 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. Staff on the ground monitored the A350’s progress 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.

John Leahy, Airbus COO for customers, said that the A350 has emerged as the most advanced commercial airplane in the world. “It was just about a perfect flight-test of a brand-new aircraft type,” he told AIN’s correspondent at the Toulouse event. “You saw the takeoff, but did you hear the takeoff? It was so quiet, that you could probably not hear it. Some people even thought it was an all-electric airplane because it was so quiet. It did a four-hour test flight not just around the [airport perimeter] but four hours up in the air, exploring the flight envelope, going to eighty percent of the speed of sound and doing slow flight, too.”

Before landing, the Airbus test pilots treated the crowds to a 1,000-foot low pass.