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”.