A350 MSN 2 (F-WWCF) and MSN 4 (F-WZNW) in flight. Photo: Airbus
MSN 2 & MSN 4 take to the skies for the first time; A350 performance penalties on the first few airplanes; Timelines more important than performance; A350 program gets costlier:why; A320 production ramp up.
Today marks four things: The Airbus Group press conference, the first flight of MSN2, the first flight of MSN4, and the Airbus announcement of the Airbus A320 production ramp-up.
On 2nd January, 2014, EADS, which comprised Airbus, Eurocopter, Cassidian, and Astrium, was been rebranded as “Airbus Group". The Airbus Group press conference must not be confused with the Airbus press conference, which was held on 13th January, 2014. But, very obviously, Airbus was discussed today.
Aviation Week today reported that “Airbus Group is taking a €434 million extraordinary charge in its 2013 results for the A350 program" due to “higher than expected recurring costs for the new widebody aircraft". Airbus, unlike Bombardier: the only other airliner airframer to be engaged in a flight test campaign of an all-new aircraft, has ensured that the program has stuck to schedule, at any cost. And that cost, for now, is an added Euro 434M.
A very interesting insight provided in an article in Aviation Week, in August 2012, which was highlighted today by Rupa Haria, quoted Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at the Teal Group, “If you are missing important milestones, you get beaten up by the financial markets or your customers. . . . You want to meet time guarantees more than performance guarantees."
In other words, the first few airplanes won’t be as good as those that will roll out of the line later.
Which also means that the Airbus A350 airplanes that took to the skies today, F-WWCF(MSN2) and F-WZNW(MSN4), could have benefitted from the later roll out at a cost: the cost to Airbus and its suppliers, who have to manufacture different variants of the same part, for the sake of keeping up with the program schedule. Different variants are due to part/product maturity which comes eventually with time. The most important reason for maturing the part is to result in weight savings, which impact the performance guarantees that Richard Aboulafia was talking about. The financial implications arising out of these performance penalties incurred by the first few operators of the A350, will be passed on to Airbus. This also affects the resale value of the first few aircraft, even with modifications that will be effected on the aircraft in service.
Such relatively immature aircraft, very obviously, come cheap to the airlines, but attract higher subsequent costs of ownership.
According to Aviation Week, there will be three batches of Airbus A350s, based on the design changes, and consequently, performance.
F-WWCF is the first of two A350 flight test aircraft to be equipped with a full passenger cabin interior, and features a distinctive “Carbon" signature livery to reflect its primary construction from advanced materials. 53% of the A350 XWB’s airframe is made-up of carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) including Airbus’ first carbon-fibre fuselage. Hence the registration, F-WW"CF", for Carbon Fibre.
MSN 2 will be the first A350 to transport passengers when it undertakes the Early Long Flights (ELF) later in the year. The “passengers" will be Airbus employees. The eye-candy A350 will do well for promotions, especially when it lands at airports outside Toulouse, and even Europe.
The other aircraft to be fitted with a cabin will be MSN 5, which is in the final assembly line and is expected to fly in a few months. MSN 4 joins MSN 1 and 3, the first two airplanes to have taken to the skies, in being those three airplanes dedicated to avionics, noise testing, and various other systems work through the flight test program. These three aircraft will not be fitted with a cabin, but rather, equipped with heavy flight test installation. The aircraft has on its fuselage the logo of Qatar Airways, and “A350 XWB Launch Customer".
It will, however, only be MSN 6 which will be delivered to Qatar Airways. MSN 6 is already in the A350 Final Assembly Line (FAL). This aircraft is expected to take to the skies in the October of 2014, and delivered less than a month later.
Composite image generated from Flight Radar 24
Singapore Airlines will receive MSN 8, the third aircraft intended for commercial operations. Vietnam Airlines will receive MSN 14, and Finnair MSN 18. The 21st A350 airframe is expected to be the A350-800, and the 41st A350 airframe is expected to be the A350-1000.
MSN 2 and MSN 4 flew together in formation close to the southern border of France, over the Pyrenees mountains, for a photo shoot.
A320s in production. Photo: Airbus
While one program bleeds the finances, the proven narrowbody family: a proven market that allows airliner manufacturers Boeing and Airbus to not only earn their bread but offset costs from other programs.
The A320 program is ramping up production, as announced today by Airbus, to 46 a month in Q2 2016, up from the current rate 42. The new higher production rate will be achieved gradually, with an intermediate step at 44 aircraft per month in Q1 2016.
“Based on the healthy market outlook for our best-selling A320 Family and following a comprehensive assessment of our supply chain’s readiness to ramp-up, we are ready to go to rate 46 by Q2 2016," said Tom Williams, Executive Vice President Programmes. “With a record backlog of over 4,200 A320 Family aircraft and the growing success of the NEO, we have a solid case to increase our monthly output to satisfy our customers’ requirement for more of our fuel efficient aircraft."
Over the past five years, Airbus has steadily increased A320 Family production, going from rate 36 at the end of 2010 to rate 38 in August 2011, then up to rate 40 in Q1 2012 to reach 42 per month in Q4 of the same year.
The Airbus A350 program achieved another milestone with the successful completion of the ultimate load wing test in December 2013. The ultimate load wing test is a test in which the wing is deflected to simulate the “ultimate” load, beyond or at which the wing is expected to fail.
The ultimate load is calculated as 2.5 times the maximum expected G load that the aircraft would ever encounter in its service life. For the Airbus A350, which is limited in the G loads that it may experience, by the Fly By Wire system to +2.5G, or with the FBW system deactivated, as is the case with a reversion to direct law, approximately between 3-3.5G with the aerodynamic limitations of the flight control surfaces. The ultimate load is then possibly between 7.5 – 8.75G.
Based on this G force, the expected wing flex due to aerodynamic loading is computed, and the wing of a static test airframe flexed (loaded) to the corresponding load. The wing is expected not to fail at this “ultimate” load equivalent flex. At this loading, the A350’s wings flexed in excess of 5 meters, while at a similarly scaled G loading, the A380’s wings flexed to close to 7.5 meters. The 787’s wing flexed up to 7.6 meters in a similar test, mandatory for certification.
In February 2006, the A380’s wing gave way just before the 1.5 times greater G load limit was reached.
Unlike in the past, aircraft manufacturers don’t seem to be stressing the wing beyond 1.5 times greater load, to the point of wing failure. The actual failure load may not be known.
According to Airbus, “This test was performed on the A350 XWB static test airframe that was built specifically to demonstrate the structural integrity of the airframe. The strains induced into the airframe were measured and monitored in real time using more than ten thousand measurement channels. The huge volume of data recorded was analysed and correlated to the structural computer models which have been used to design the airframe.”
With the comforting thought of a safe-enough wing, the first A350 airframe intended for commercial service, MSN6, is being assembled for launch customer Qatar Airways.
With its unwavering focus on meeting its certification program goal of 2,500 hours within 12 months since its first flight on June 14th 2013, Airbus has sent its second A350, MSN 3 (F-WGZZ) to Bolivia, South America, where high altitude tests will be conducted. The tests will be conducted at El Alto International Airport (IATA: LPB, ICAO: SLLP) at La Paz, which is at 13,325ft MSL and has a 13,123ft long east to west runway, and at Jorge Wilstermann International Airport (IATA: CBB, ICAO: SLCB) at Cochabamba, which is at 8,360ft MSL and has a 12,460 ft long south-east to north-west facing runway.
The aircraft landed in Bolivia on 7th January, 2014.
This is the first time that the A350 has crossed the boundaries of Europe, and for the first time undertaken a trans-Atlantic flight, flying for the first time into South America.
According to Airbus, “Operations at such high altitude airfields are particularly demanding on aircraft engines, Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) and systems. The aim of these trials is to demonstrate and validate the full functionality of engines, systems, materials as well as to assess the overall aircraft behaviour under these extreme conditions. A number of take-offs with all engines operating and with simulated engine failures are being performed at each of the airfields to collect data on engine operating characteristics and validate the aircraft take-off performance. The autopilot behaviour will also be evaluated during automatic landings and go-arounds."
MSN-3 is planned to spend around a week at Bolivia.
Till date, the A350 program has accumulated 800 flight test hours in about 200 flights flown by MSN 1 (F-WXWB) and MSN 3 (F-WGZZ), resulting in an average of 4 hours of testing per test flight. The third A350, MSN- 2, F-WWCF, is assembled and painted, will soon take to the skies, and will be later joined by MSN 4 and MSN 5, to fly test flights in parallel to meet the goal of a 12 month certification program.MSN4 and MSN 5 are being assembled.
The Airbus A350 program seems to be on track for the planned 12 month certification program, and the planned entry into service (EIS) in what was earlier reported by Airbus as the “second half of 2014”, and now, more precisely, “Q4 2014”; On Thursday 2nd January 2014 Airbus rolled-out its third A350 XWB flight-test aircraft, MSN2, from the paint shop in Toulouse.
The rolling out of the A350 fitted with a cabin was well timed: January 1st 2014 marked 100 years since the first scheduled commercial airline flight took off, with just one passenger, from St-Pertersburg, Florida, to Tampa, Florida, in a flight that lasted just 23 minutes.
The first A350 to enter commercial service will be for Qatar Airways.
This aircraft, F-WWCF, is the first of two A350 flight test aircraft to be equipped with a full passenger cabin interior, and features a distinctive “Carbon" signature livery to reflect its primary construction from advanced materials. 53% of the A350 XWB’s airframe is made-up of carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) including Airbus’ first carbon-fibre fuselage.
The other aircraft to be fitted with a cabin will be MSN 5, which is in the final assembly line and is expected to fly in a few months. MSN 1, 3 and 4 are dedicated to avionics, noise testing, and various other systems work through the flight test program. These three aircraft will not be fitted with a cabin, but rather, equipped with heavy flight test installation.
MSN2 will join the A350 XWB flight test fleet in the coming weeks and will be the first A350 to transport passengers when it undertakes the Early Long Flights (ELF) later in the year. The “passengers” will be Airbus employees.
Airbus states that the assembly of MSN5, the fifth and final member of the A350 XWB flight test fleet in the test flight campaign is now underway with the fuselage joining process. This follows the recent arrival of the three fuselage sections at the A350 XWB final assembly line (FAL) in Toulouse, France.
MSN5 is the second of the A350 flight test aircraft that will feature a passenger cabin. MSN 2 and MSN 5 will have the cabin fitted, where Airbus will put passengers on board, with cabin crew. It is for the first time in the history of Airbus that so early in the campaign 2 aircraft have been dedicated to the cabin. Earlier, aircraft would be dedicated about 2 months before the entry into service. Associated with that are delays, a lot of complaints from passengers, and a difficulty of entry into service. This was witnessed in the A320 and the A340 programs.
This aircraft will fly for the first time in Spring 2014 and will be used essentially to perform cabin related flight tests. It will also participate in the Early Long Flights where the “passengers" are Airbus employees. This allows the cabin and related systems to be submitted to near realistic operations in order to ensure a mature cabin at entry into service. In addition, MSN5 will carry out Route Proving flights to demonstrate to the certification authorities that the aircraft performs perfectly in airport operations.
To date the two A350 XWB test aircraft, MSN1 and MSN3 have clocked up over 500 flight test hours in more than 100 test flights. The A350 XWB has already won more than 760 firm orders from 39 customers worldwide. First delivery will be to Qatar Airways in the second half of 2014.
A350 MSN3 took to the skies on 14th October, 2013. Photo: Airbus
A350 Test Flight Program
On October 14th, exactly 4 months after the 1st A350 took to the skies amidst much media coverage, the second A350 test vehicle, Serial number 003 (MSN 3), took to the skies, allowing the program to not inch, but take confident strides towards an early certification and hopefully, and early introduction into service. Till date, the A350 has flown about 330 flight test hours over almost 70 flights.
With Airbus hoping to contain the flight test campaign within 12-13 months, to enable deliveries by mid 2014, a lot of flight testing needs to be compressed in this period, possible only with 5 test flight airplanes. This aggressiveness is to get to the market early, to “overtake its US rival Boeing to become the world’s biggest producer within four or five years", as envisioned by Airbus chief Fabrice Bregier.
MSN1, the first A350 to take to the skies, is followed by MSN 3 and will be followed by MSN 4. These will be used for avionics, noise testing, and various other systems work through the flight test program. MSN 3 will have a greater focus on the Rolls Royce engines, and is similar to MSN 1: no cabin but equipped with heavy flight test installation. MSN 2 and MSN 5 will have the cabin fitted, where Airbus will put passengers on board, with cabin crew. It is for the first time in the history of Airbus that so early in the campaign 2 aircraft have been dedicated to the cabin. Earlier, aircraft would be dedicated about 2 months before the entry into service. Associated with that are delays, a lot of complaints from passengers, and a difficulty of entry into service. Thsi was witnessed by the A320 and the A340 programs.
MSN 1 had the most important role: freezing the aerodynamic configuration, being subject to minor changes to make sure the airplane is exactly how it should be, fine tuning the handling qualities, and making accurate performance measurements. The goal is to have something that handles very similar to the A330, as it is very important in the certification campaign to get a common type rating for pilots to fly the 330 and 350 in parallel, to allow mixed fleet flying.
The world of test flights
Flight test pilots preparing for the first flight of the A350 on June 14th, 2013.
At Toulouse, Airbus has 25 test pilots, of which 15 are developmental test pilots and 10 production test pilots. There are more test pilots at Hamburg, and about 2 at China.
Says one of Airbus’ former developmental test pilots, Pierre Baud, who was with Airbus for more than 30 years, being part of the maiden flights of the A310, A300-600, A320, A340 and A321, “When we talk about pilots, we have to divide the pilot population in two. Airline pilots do not generally dream to be experimental test pilots. They will dream to be a captain on the A380 or Concorde, but they don’t expect to be experimental test pilots. Airline pilot and test pilot are two jobs that are very different. All the pilots walking in the environment of the aircraft manufacturer wish to be one day be an experimental test pilot. Which means that they have all the qualifications to perform a first flight. Because there are a lot of test pilots which are essentially production pilots in that case they wish to be upgraded to an experimental test pilot. Most pilots employed by an aircraft manufacturer dream to be an experimental test pilot."
Flight Test Pilots and Flight Test Engineers
Engineers from Airbus checking-out the Sharklet test station aboard A320 MSN 5098. The first new-production A320 jetliner equipped with Airbus’ fuel-saving Sharklets – which rolled out from the final assembly line in April 2. Photo: Airbus.
Pilots are responsible for the safety of the aircraft. They fly the aircraft and carry out the various manoeuvres that are required. The test flight engineer has a very special role as usually he is very familiar with the aircraft as it’s gone through the build process. He knows intimately its limitations, and modifications. He’ll be the third pair of eyes, really, in the cockpit, to make sure that everything is running smoothly, with all the systems in the background working as they should. In addition, there are the flight test engineers down at the back, at their stations where they can monitor all the systems in much more detail , directing the flight test process itself.
Pilots tend to multitask, not dedicated to specific tests. The flight test engineers tend to be more specialized, and are called upon according to their specialty. It is important to have many pilots fly the aircraft because one the fine tuning of the flight controls may be very satisfactory for a small set of pilots, but the need is to expose the aircraft to a large number of pilots, including those of the training center, who are not test pilots. In the development process, certain flights aren’t too difficult, allowing training pilots to fly the aircraft, thereby exposing the fly-by-wire and handling to a large number of people, as it finally needs to be satisfactory for the entire pilot community.
There are test pilots who have the capacity to quickly learn, understand and fine tune flight control laws (handling qualities), and those who are better suited to develop a complex system such as a Flight Management System (FMS).
“The best is to be able to do both!”, says Jacques Rosay, Chief Test Pilot, Airbus.
Airbus has hosted a dedicated website, http://www.a350xwbfirstflight.com, which will webcast live the first flight of the A350XWB. According to Airbus, the “Live Webcast will begin approximately one hour before take-off and continue past landing.”
As mentioned in the previous post, the first flight is scheduled for 13:30hrs IST (0800UTC) on 14th June, 2013, with the webcast starting at 12:30 IST (0700 UTC). The first flight is a once in a lifetime experience, both for a spectator, and the aircraft!
Set your calendars, and enjoy the first flight! Click on the image on the left to lead you to the webpage!
Airbus has planned the first flight of the A350 on the 14th of June, 2013: 2 days from now. The scheduled time of A350 MSN001’s first flight is 0800hrs UTC (1000hrs Toulouse 1330hrs IST). Airbus claims, with this announcement, that the A350 program is on schedule, with entry-into-service expected in the second half of 2014. This is an interesting statement, considering that in the September of 2010, Airbus had expected the delivery of the first A350 in 2013.
The Airbus A350 is a result of the pressure exerted by airlines on Airbus, in the face of the Boeing 787’s “threat” to the Airbus A330. The A350 program was formally announced towards the end of the end of 2004, but it was only in mid 2006 that Airbus, after facing criticism for a derivative of the A330 rather than a whole new clean sheet design, announced the A350XWB: an all new airplane. In essence, the A350XWB project is a forced response from Airbus to Boeing’s 787 program.
MSN001 is an A350-941, bearing registration F-WXWB. The A350-900’s Rolls Royce Trent XWB Engines are the largest that will be fitted on an Airbus airliner, producing 374kN (almost 37,500kg force) of thrust, each. The A350-900 has the typical seating capacity of the Boeing 777-200 (314 pax in a 3 class layout), and the range of the 787-9 (~8100NM), serving as, what seems now to be the plug between the two. Observed Lufthansa’s CEO Christoph Franz, “Because of pressure mainly by the fast growing Gulf carriers, both Airbus and Boeing are being pushed to design aircraft with more range capabilities and engine power than needed by most other operators. European airlines therefore have to deal with over designed aircraft that carry additional unneeded weight”.
Here is the timeline of major developments in the life of MSN001:
January 2009: A350 XWB Design is “frozen".
November 2010: The longest fuselage panel for Airbus’ A350 XWB completes its curing process.
March 2011: The largest composite fuselage panel for Airbus’ A350 XWB completes its curing process.
July 2011: Production on a key component in the A350 XWB’s initial horizontal tail plane begins, at Airbus’ centre of excellence in Puerto Real, Spain.
August 2011: The first A350 XWB centre wing box is delivered from Airbus’ site in Nantes, France to Airbus’ St Nazaire, France facility where it eventually is assembled into the first A350 XWB fuselage.
September 2011: Wing upper cover manufactured at Airbus’ Stade, Germany is transported to Airbus’ wing assembly site in Broughton, UK. The lower wing cover made in Illescas, Spain arrives in Broughton. The first A350 XWB nose section is transported to Airbus in St Nazaire from partner company Aerolia’s site in Méaulte. Airbus aerostructures partner Premium Aerotec puts together the first forward fuselage for the A350 XWB at Nordenham, Germany.
October 2011: Airbus completes installation of the first Rolls-Royce Trent XWB flight test engine on the A380 “flying-testbed" aircraft. Airbus starts the assembly of the first A350 XWB’s horizontal tailplane (HTP) in Getafe, Spain.
November 2011: Assembly of the first A350 XWB’s 32-metre-long carbon fibre wings begins at Airbus’ recently-opened North Factory in Broughton, UK. Pre-assembly of ribs, upper and lower covers and fixed leading and trailing edges already has taken place.
December 2011: Airbus starts joining the first 21-metre long front fuselage section for the A350 XWB in Saint-Nazaire, France.
February 2012: The A350 XWB’s Rolls-Royce Trent XWB successfully makes its maiden flight aboard Airbus’ dedicated A380 “Flying-Test-Bed" aircraft.
March 2012: Structural assembly of the first A350 XWB aft fuselage destined for the first flying A350 XWB (MSN1) is completed at Airbus’ manufacturing site in Hamburg (Germany).
July 2012: Airbus delivers the front fuselage for the first flyable A350 XWB (MSN1) to the Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Toulouse (France).
August 2012: A350 XWB “MSN1" flight-deck comes to life. Flight-deck power-on is an important step on the route to complete aircraft power-on and first flight, because it enables most systems functional checking to be undertaken.
October 2012: The vertical tail plane of the first flyable A350 XWB (MSN1) has comes out of the paint hall in Toulouse.
November 2012: The wing join-up started in the Roger Béteille Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Toulouse. The wings are attached to the fuselage and other finishing activities such as the spoilers are installed.
December 2012: Airbus successfully completes the main structural assembly and system connection of A350 XWB ‘MSN1’ – the first flight-test aircraft.
February 2013: A350 XWB’s Trent XWB engine achieves EASA type certification. First A350 XWB with wings complete emerges for outdoor testing.
March 2013: Airbus installs Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines and Honeywell APU on A350 XWB MSN001.
May 2013: First A350 XWB painting completed in Toulouse
June 2013: First A350 XWB’s engines powered up.
June 14th, 2013: First Flight Expected with 6 member flight crew.
It is every pilot’s 2 faced moment: the first flight of an unproven airplane. Although coming from a company that has made some of the finest airliners over the years, every new airplane is a new airplane, and there lies areas of uncertainty, doubt, fear, excitement, and pride.
Airbus has announced the flight crew for the first flight of the A350XWB. The list, as published by Airbus:
Peter Chandler, an Experimental Flight Test Pilot with Airbus since 2000 and Chief Test Pilot since 2011;
Guy Magrin, an Experimental Flight Test Pilot with Airbus since 2003 and Project Pilot for the A350 XWB;
Pascal Verneau, who has held various positions in Airbus’ flight test division since 1999 and is the A350 XWB Project Test Flight Engineer.
Fernando Alonso, Flight Test Engineer with Airbus since 1982 and Head of Airbus Flight & Integration Test Centre since 2007;
Patrick du Ché, Flight Test Engineer with Airbus since 2001 and currently Head of Development Flight Tests since 2012;
Emanuele Constanzo, Flight Test Engineer with Airbus since 2004 and lead Flight Test Engineer for the Trent XWB engine.
The first three members will be in the cockpit, while the other three will be seated behind, in the “cabin”, working at dedicated flight test stations and managing the progress of the flight profile.
The A350 XWB Project pilots have been heavily involved in cockpit and systems design and integrations from the operational perspective.
Of the 6 crew members, Fernando Alonso was also present on board the Airbus A380’s first flight. Alonso has been with Airbus since 1982, and has more than 3000hours of flight test time to his credit. He graduated in Aeronautical Engineering in Spain, and began his career with McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach (California). During the two years he stayed in the United States, he earned his pilot’s license.
A defining moment in his career was when Airbus sent him to train as a test pilot. He had fun and flew over 50 aircraft, including military helicopters and fighter planes. Alonso has been on many test flights at Airbus, and on the maiden test flights of the A340-200, A319, A318, A380, and now on the A350 when it takes to the air.
When the A350 takes to the air, Alonso will have with him two other engineers, in the cabin: one specializing in engines, and the other, in systems. His qualification as an engineer and a test pilot allows him to communicate effectively, and quickly with the flight test crew, speaking to pilots in their language, and engineers in theirs. Not all test pilots are engineers. But Alonso is both, acting as the “flight director”: telling the pilot what to do, monitoring the systems and responses, and recording observations.
Alonso and the others will fly in fire-proof suits, helmets, and with parachutes. In due course of the flight test campaign, as the aircraft is gradually pushed to its limits, there won’t be enough time to react and bail out of the airplane. But the attire is necessary, for the sake of insurance.
Does he feel nervous? He believes that he’ll be so focused on his work that he’ll actually be a lot less nervous than those on the ground watching the airplane take to the skies.
Says the 57 year old Alonso, who probably is the luckiest man on earth holding the best job combination of a pilot and an engineer, “Passion is essential for this work”.