The A350XWB flight test campaign continues in earnest, and with more than 850 flight hours now logged it’s time I wrote an update. I was following the campaign and the CSeries more closely in the initial stages, but the number of great resources available online meant I took a bit of back seat.
The static test frame MSN5000 has now successfully completed ultimate wing load testing reaching a five metre deflection the wing, subjecting the wing to loads to 1.5 times greater than expected in service life. Strains were measured by 10,000 measurement channels which correlate load information against structural design models.
Our 2013 retrospective, and Airbus breaking with tradition on A350 MSN2 , inspired me to take a look at what this dynamic industry might have in-store for 2014:
A350 MSN2 the first test aircraft to be fitted with a full cabin interior in its new carbon fibre scheme. Image: Airbus SAS.
Some big regulatory changes will take place in 2014. In particular, CASA will need to guide the Australia’s airlines on the use of Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) following changes to regulatory legislation by the FAA in the US and EASA in Europe. Currently Australian carriers are self regulating in this respect, but moving independently as a way to gain competitive advantage will only create headaches for crew in enforcing use on-board.
Image: Graham Cook
Domestic capacity The war will continue until the end of the first half, bringing further revenue pressure to the Qantas and Virgin groups. Qantas has invested too much the public rhetoric behind in its strategy, to back away now would look like it was giving in. Not the best market image to present given its current financial position. Expect the Federal Government to make small changes to the level of single foreign ownership to the Qantas Sale Act.
The political future of Tony Abbott’s Government depends on their ability to deliver a courageous bipartisan policy decision. With a promise of a decision, a ‘government of no surprises’ will now need to deliver with a real commitment on Badgery’s Creek. This will come as a stage 1 single runway development, with no rail connection, because Abbott’s made it clear he doesn’t like trains. Also expect a change to the slot caps at Sydney Airport, starting with the 05:00-06:00am landing window.
The first of our weekly rollerboard wraps, neatly packing up a broader and atypical perspective on the industry.
Going to ground
Air India’s Boeing 787 fleet has been in a bit of a pickle over the last few weeks leading to the airline’s decision to preemptively ground one aircraft at a time from the end of November.
Ostensibly for software upgrades, each grounding will last for an undetermined length of time giving AI time to conduct more general repairs across its fleet of ten 787-8s. What is wrong outside the airline’s own 787 minimum equipment list (MEL) Air India hasn’t confirmed, but there has been multiple incidents including the loss of a mid-underwing-to-body fairing located on the belly of the aeroplane on the right side at Bangalore Airport, a cracked windshield grounding an aircraft in Melbourne, another grounding in Sydney due to undisclosed issues, and a braking issue on a flight from London to Delhi.
An unofficial Air India source says “Boeing has put out certain service bulletins which the airline will implement. This is not mandatory. The airline is doing it on its own to increase reliability of the aircraft.”
Sometimes I manage to come across the most random stories, while the Xtra large ones fly under the radar. A350-900 MSN3 has officially joined MSN1 in the sky on the A350 test programme after completing its maiden five hour long sortie earlier this week.
The A350-900 test flight programme continues apace. MSN003 started its engines for the first time yesterday; MSN001 having pushed past 250 flight hours – with its tail bumper installed (see right) – this week took to Châlons Vatry Airport to begin one of its most spectacular of tests: Velocity Minimum Unstick (VMU) testing.
VMU is an intense series of tests used to determine the minimum speed at which the A350 will become airborne. During testing the pilots over-rotate the aircraft as early as possible to the maximum angle of attack allowed on the ground, until the tail bumper settles and drags along the runway. This angle of attack is held until the aircraft becomes airborne, or ‘unsticks’.
In the excitement of various firsts by Boeing and Bombardier last week, overlooked was Airbus’ first: its widebody family test aircraft, the A330 (rear), A350 (foreground) and A380 flew in formation for the first time before continuing on their own test sorties. Magnifique.
Lufthansa has become a launch customer for the yet to be launched next generation Boeing 777X project ordering 34 777-9Xs in addition to 25 Airbus A350-900s, with options and purchase rights for an additional 60 aircraft – 30 each of the 777-9X and A350-900.
The 777-9X will be powered by the General Electric GE9X and feature a new advanced composite wing, which at 71 metres will be the longest aircraft wing Boeing has produced. The result? An estimated 20 per cent better fuel efficiency and a 15% reduction in operating costs over the 777-300ER resulting in the lowest seat kilometre costs in the industry.
Commercial aviation is pushing into a new frontier. Some are calling this an industry super-cycle; the civil aerospace industry is developing (A320NEO, 737MAX and G2 Embraer E-Jet family), assembling (787-9), ramping-up (787-8), rolling out (A350 and CSeries), and rolling over (727s and 747s) an unprecedented number of aircraft types.
Preparing to fly: Airbus A350, Friday, 14 June.
Airbus is preparing for the first flight of its A350, weather depending, this will take place on Friday, June 14. The aircraft has been undertaking high-speed taxi and rejected take-off tests in preparation for the maiden sortie. The interview with test pilot Andrew Chapman gives an insight into the initial test regime, and the aircraft’s predicted handling.
Weather remains a crucial element in allowing the first flight to take place; absolute weather minima is a cloud base of 1,500ft and 3km visibility. Thunderstorms and the threat of lightning will result in a delay or cancellation of the first flight, due to the limitations of the aircraft at such an early stage.
MSN1 will eventually be joined in the flight test campaign by four aircraft. Airbus expects to certify the A350 in mid-2014 after it has accumulated approximately 2,500 flying hours.
New to the cycle
Late last week, Bombardier’s CSeries 100 FTV-1 prototype rolled out of the production hanger. The prototype CS100 successfully completed 6 weeks of intensive software testing in mid-May, with confirms Bombardier’s Vice President Commercial Chet Fuller confirming the prototype is on track to fly as scheduled by the end of June, but not before the Paris Air Show.
Five flight test vehicles will be involved in the CS100 certification campaign, with each new aircraft entering at approximately four to six week intervals. FTV-1 will test aerodynamics, aeroelasticity and flight dynamics; FTV-2 will be used to test avionics; and, FTV-5 will be the first CS100 fitted with a full passenger cabin. Image: Wikimedia.
The sleek CS100 is Bombardier’s foray into the 100-200 seat short-haul market. With Boeing and Airbus moving to larger capacity A320NEO/737MAX families, Bombardier moved to fill the void between those aircraft and regional jets in the marketplace; to serve marginal, as well as long and thin short-haul routes. Bombardier also recently revealed a redesign of the CS300 increasing the seat capacity from 135 to 160. The move made the CS300 distinctly competitive in the LCC market offering a higher total seat capacity than both the A319NEO and 737-7MAX, at a 20% lower maximum takeoff weight.
But the key to CSeries family is the Pratt & Whitney Pure Power PW1000G, with the CS100 the first civil aircraft to be powered by next generation ultra-high bypass geared turbofan engines (GTF). A significant change in engine architecture, the fan which produces the majority of thrust is driven by a reduction gearbox rather than being directly connected to the rest of the engine. This enables the fan to spin at a slower speed than the engine core, which rotates at a higher speed to optimise performance. The result is an engine that delivers a 16:1 compression ratio, and by adding a gearbox, P&W reduced the number of engine stages while achieving its fuel burn goal and a significant increase in propulsive efficiency. The diversity offered by the Pure Power series’ has enabled Bombardier to increase the size of its CS300 without negatively impacting operating performance; a subject that will be watched closely by airlines who have chosen the P&W engine to power their A320NEO orders.
Bombardier has 177 net orders for both the CS100, and larger CS300, with certification and EIS is expected in mid-2014.
At the end of the cycle
Fedex Express, the last significant operator of the Boeing 727, will retire its final 727-200F from service on July 1. Fedex has operated the type continuously since 1978, when the airline received its first 727-100.
The airline brought forward the retirement of the 727 by several months, David J. Bronczek Fedex Express’ CEO explaining, “with the planned acquisition of new aircraft and projected slower economic growth than previously forecast, FedEx Express is lowering maintenance costs by aggressively parking and retiring aircraft”.
The retirement leaves Fedex with a streamlined fleet of Boeing 757-200SF converted freighters that have a greater payload-range, uplifting approximately 25% more revenue cargo than the 727, at a reduced operating cost.
At the peak of the operation in 1993, Fedex operated 167 727 aircraft. In 1993 the airline received it’s final 727-200F Advanced, taking delivery of the last 15 727-200F’s – the only 727 aircraft to built as pure-freighters – direct from Boeing.
With the worst news for airlines behind them, Airbus and Boeing are now making fast tracks in the development of their next generation aircraft families.
On May 30 in Everett, Boeing commenced final assembly – the process of joining the wings, fuselage sections, and integrating systems – of the first Boeing 787-9 on the former 767 production line. With the three flight test aircraft requiring installation of additional flight testing instrumentation, the surge line was created to ensure no disruption to the ramp up of 787-8 production.
The 787-9 features a 6 metre fuselage stretch over the baseline 787-9, and strengthened internal structures for a higher maximum takeoff weight, increasing range by 300nm (555km) to 8,000 to 8,500nm (14,800 to 15,750km).
The redesigned horizontal and vertical stabiliser is the first on a commercial aircraft to incorporate a hybrid laminar flow control (HLFC) system. The system passively ingests air at the front of the surface, allowing the laminar flow (boundary layer) – the layer of air immediately above the surface of a wing or stabiliser – to remain attached longer. By maintaining a smooth boundary layer for longer the transition point of the laminar flow to turbulent air can be moved backwards across the surface reducing drag by a further 1%.
Production is expected to take approximately two months. A vast improvement on the planned five months for the 787-8 which later became two years and seven months. Launch customer Air New Zealand is expected to take delivery of its first aircraft in early 2014.
Meanwhile over in Toulouse, the prototype Airbus A350-900 MSN-1 rolled out on May 13, had its two Rolls-Royce’s Trent XWB engines started for the first time yesterday after a successful start of the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (APU).
MSN1 powers up for the first time. Image: Airbus SAS.
A successful engine start brings the A350 one step closer to commencing ground runs, including taxi trials and rejected takeoff tests in preparation for its maiden sortie, the date of which Airbus is yet to reveal.
Airbus has rolled out its first Airbus A350-900 MSN001 in its full paint scheme at its Toulouse production facility.
Airbus is yet to set an official date for the maiden sortie of the prototype flight test aircraft.
Fitted with Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines the aircraft has spent close to a week in the paint shop. The A350 has already completed flight-test-instrument (FTI) verification and will now commence ground testing, followed by a series of ground runs before its first flight.
Airbus holds 616 customer orders for the three member A350 family, which will eventually include a smaller 250-seat A350-800 variant and larger 350-seat A350-1000 variant.