Riding shotgun on an A380 flight test

Having been reporting on the A380 and its predecessor the A3XX for a decade, it was with much anticipation that I climbed aboard to undertake my first flight on the giant.
For the 14 September flight aboard MSN001 F-WWOW, I was “riding shot-gun” for our flight-test pilot Mike Gerzanics who was one of five pilot-writers invited to fly the A380 for the world’s leading aviation magazines.

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Airbus’s chief test pilot Jacques Rosay was captain of the flight and in the right hand seat for take-off and touch and goes. For the handling exercises, Rosay handed over to Airbus test pilot Peter Chandler – the ex-Royal Air Force pilot who two months ago flew the A380 as “red one” at Farnborough in formation with the Red Arrows. Down the back at the test console was vice president flight tests Fernando Alonso.

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We departed Airbus’s Blagnac headquarters at a weight of 390t using the standard “Config 3″ flap position (26 degrees on the trailing edge and 23 degrees of leading edge). Take-off roll was smooth with the Trent engines’ spool-up limited to 78% N1 until we’d reached 45kt (to reduce fatigue on the engine) which enhances the smooth acceleration.
Alonso reported that the take-off run to the 140kt rotate speed used 1,345m of tarmac, and after another 455m we were 35ft above the ground. The whole process took 43sec.

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The interior of 001 is full of flight-test equipment, with a “mini-cabin” incorporating around 30 passenger seats installed on the upper deck. But apart from the seats and overhead bins, there are little if any creature comforts, so the aircraft is far from representative of the A380 that the paying public will fly on, but it still showed remarkable quietness in the cruise.
During the 3h 30min flight we flew as high as 30,000ft and as fast as Mach 0.89/340kt. Climb and descent was “lumpy” to say the least, as each pilot took it in turn to throw the aircraft around to see how it handled – and the ride was not helped by the weather – 800ft cloudbase with light showers, and with the clag topping out just below our maximum altitude.

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We were soon back down at medium level to sample the legendary Airbus envelope protection in the landing configuration. Despite being such a huge, heavy aircraft, the A380 computers’ “noughts and ones” make sure that the aircraft can be flown right up to the stall without a sweat.
The trip took us northwest of Toulouse towards Bordeaux and back round towards Limoges before a let down to Blagnac for a series of touch and goes. Back at the controls, Mike – who is a qualified test pilot and currently flies 737s for Southwest Airlines – drilled the A380 smoothly down the approach to Runway 32L.

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Although the wind was down the runway – 320deg/10kt – the rain and cloudbase was still not co-operating.
Mike’s first touchdown was very smooth, with the 20 wheel main landing gear hardly troubled. Then it was straight into the go-around for the eighth time and a wide right hand circuit before recovering for the final full stop landing.

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Once on the ground the pilots took it in turn to taxi the aircraft. Aided by the the taxi cameras which display on the PFD, Mike was able to keep the nose gear nailed onto the centreline.

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We taxied back to the ramp and after a quick external walkaround check, it was off for some lunch and an informal debrief.

Airbus’s great bunch of flight-test pilots and engineers are justifiably proud of this aircraft. They tell me that this is the best performing aircraft they’ve ever been tasked with developing and can barely hide their frustration that for the moment at least, their success is being overshadowed by events outside their control in production.

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