The A320 series: how time flies

It’s 25 years since the Airbus A320 entered service, and it has done for Airbus what the iPod did for Apple. 

In honour of the occasion, I dug this picture (below) out of my archives. It records what, for me, was the most historic moment in my flying career.

You can tell from the little you can see of the cockpit that this is not an A320. 

It’s an A300 actually, but it has a sidestick. It was the A300 testbed for the A320′s fly-by-wire system. 

Flying the sidestick A300.jpg

Sitting beside me in the right hand seat (taking the picture) was Airbus’ chief engineer and test pilot Bernard Ziegler, one of the Airbus original team. In front of him was a traditional control yoke which was conventionally connected to the control surfaces. 

My sidestick, on the other hand, was sending electrical signals to a bank of computers, mounted behind me in the cabin, that would vet my demands and pass them on to the control actuators. My demands would remain unmodified unless I made a demand that would take the aircraft outside its flight envelope.

Incidentally if Ziegler had had his way, Airbus’ first product – the A300 – would have been FBW-controlled, but (probably wisely) the rest of the team thought it best to arrive on the scene with something uncontroversial, because the A300 already had a unique selling point: it was the world’s first widebody twinjet.

When this photograph was taken – in December 1983 -we were flying over south-western France at 18,000ft. The look of concentration on my face is the result of Ziegler’s instruction to me. He had just told me to try and stall the aircraft. 

I tried, but it wouldn’t let me. The rest is history.

During the couple of days I spent in Toulouse at that time, investigating Airbus’ plans for the service entry of this revolutionary airliner, I was fascinated with the implications for commercial air transport of the A320′s control philosophy. Here is an account of that visit and the answers to some of the questions I asked then, all of which are still relevant now.

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