French turn out in their thousands to watch landmark Airbus event as millions more tune in to TV broadcast

Airbus flew the A380 for the first time on 27 April, its six-man crew staying airborne for just short of 4h and completing an extensive exploration of the aircraft's behaviour.

The event captured the public imagination in a way rarely seen in aviation and was watched by about 40,000 French citizens from the boundary of Toulouse Blagnac airport, several thousand Airbus workers, and a global television audience of hundreds of millions.

Airbus had declined to commit itself to a definite flight duration, but the flawless take-off and trouble-free initial in-flight operations gave the crew confidence to perform the maximum envisaged programme. The A380 was flown by senior vice-president of Airbus's flight division Claude Lelaie and chief test pilot Jacques Rosay.

During the 3h 54 min flight the Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered aircraft climbed to an altitude of at least 14,000ft (6,360m), providing constant real-time telemetry as well as occasional spoken commentary to the media from Rosay.

A380 deputy project pilot Peter Chandler, speaking on the ground during the test, explained that the flight, including the take-off and landing, was to be conducted almost entirely with the fly-by-wire control system in direct law, in which Airbus's various envelope-protection and other pilot-assistance features are not active.

During the flight Rosay confirmed, however, that some work was done in normal law – the control regime in which the aircraft normally operates in the absence of any malfunctions.

That marked the start of the in-flight "aircraft identification" activity in which the flight-control laws are progressively honed by measuring aircraft responses to successive control pulses and adjusting the feedback. Part of the flight was flown with autopilot. Spanish flight-test engineer Fernando Alonso reported that "in every configuration there was very little buffet". The landing was smooth.

Five aircraft, including one powered by the Engine Alliance GP7200 engine, will be involved in the 2,500h flight-test programme, which is expected to last around 13 months. Airbus says that service-entry with launch operator Singapore Airlines will take place in the "second half of 2006".



Source: Flight International