A350 XWB Magazine:
#01 Bringing a Vision to Life
The Airbus A350 XWB – Xtra-Wide Body – will soon make its historic maiden voyage.
Starting with this edition and continuing up to and after the A350 XWB’s first flight, Airbus will bring you an all-access backstage pass on the development, assembly and flight tests for this truly revolutionary aircraft.
In this first edition:
- Meet the two test flight pilots and the aircraft manager of the first flight crew. In the next edition, you’ll meet the other three members of the first flight crew
- Visit the A350 XWB flight simulators and ground test facilities.
- Discover what makes sure it’s “all systems go”
So come along as Airbus takes you for the ride of a lifetime on this revolutionary aircraft.
Meet the A350 XWB First Flight Test Crew
When the first A350 XWB – known as MSN1 – makes its first flight, an international crew of six pilots and engineers will be on board.
In this edition, we’ll present the three men in the cockpit: the two pilots and the project test flight engineer. Learn more about 'Three men in the cockpit' and check back in the coming weeks for more on the rest of the First flight crew.
Peter Chandler: Chief Test Pilot
A flight test pilot for Airbus since joining the company in 2000, Peter Chandler can trace his fascination with aircraft back to a basic sciences teacher who showed his young students how airflow over and around a wing enabled a plane to fly. “We were all maybe 10-years old and whilst I don’t think I was the only one to understand the concept,” Peter said, “I may have been the only one to find it interesting.”
As a teenager, he joined a local Air Cadets programme and had the opportunity to fly light aircraft. Later, he flew more regularly as he studied aeronautical engineering at Southampton University in England. After receiving his degree, he joined the Royal Air Force in 1975, where he principally flew ground-attack aircraft. Wanting to become a test pilot, he applied for and was accepted into the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. After graduation, Peter spent the rest of his RAF career as a test pilot and instructor.
Leaving the RAF in 1994, Peter went to work as a commercial airline pilot specialising in long-haul flights on Airbus A340s.
The chief test pilot for Airbus’ civil programmes since 2008, Peter was deeply involved in the development and testing of the A380, just as he has been for the A350 XWB.
This will be Peter’s first time at the controls for a ‘First Flight’ and he knows that there are a lot of pilots who never get to have this experience. “I am very lucky and very privileged,” he said. “And if not for that basic sciences class a long time ago, I might not be sitting here.”
Guy Magrin: Project Test Pilot
Guy Magrin is a test pilot who has been involved with the A350 XWB programme since the very beginning. “At the start, you felt you were on a team of 50-60 people, but that’s completely wrong,” he said. “Later on, I went to the production line, I saw all those people working on the aircraft and I realised that it’s a huge piece of work by thousands and thousands of people.”
Born in Dijon, France, Guy wanted a career that would be both physically and intellectually challenging. He remembered watching fighter jets flying overhead when he was younger and thought being a fighter pilot would be perfect, so he joined the French Air Force.
After graduating from flight school, Guy would eventually progress all they way up to squadron leader. Then, he graduated from the test pilot programme and spent the rest of his military career as a test pilot.
In 1989, he became a commercial airline pilot, flying A320s and A330s for the next 14 years.
Shortly after joining Airbus in September 2003, Guy was assigned to the A350 programme as the project pilot where he said his primary role was working on the design of the cockpit. “I think my years as a commercial airline pilot help me understand the needs of the end-users, the pilots who will fly this aircraft every day.”
As for the upcoming ‘first flight,’ he finished up by saying, “Every pilot dreams his whole life of making the first flight on a prototype – I will never forget this experience.”
Pascal Verneau: Project Test Flight Engineer
Pascal Verneau has come a long way from being a 10-year old boy ‘fixing’ his grandfather’s tractor to being the project test flight engineer of the A350 XWB programme.
Growing up in Tours in central France, he watched pilots taking off from a nearby training base and thought, “They’re having more fun up there than I’m having down here on ground. I’m going to try and do that.” But Pascal didn’t like school; he preferred discovering how mechanical things worked. And when he learned that pilots had to do a lot of studying, he decided he would rather become an aircraft mechanic, just like a cousin of his.
After receiving his certificate in aircraft mechanics, he joined the French Air Force in 1981 as a maintenance technician. At this point, he had developed a love of learning. He took evening courses for seven years, receiving his degree in engineering in 1987. In 1988, he received a helicopter flight crew qualification for search and rescue missions. And in 1995 he graduated from the Ecole du Personnel Navigant d’Essais et de Réception (EPNER) as a flight test engineer. He has held a pilot licence since 1996.
Pascal joined Airbus’ flight test division in 1999 and participated in the development tests of the A340-600. He then became aircraft manager for the second flight test A380 and has since flown 3,300 hours on the A380. In 2007, he was appointed to his current position in the A350 XWB programme. As such, he is again the aircraft manager, the focal point for issues between the design office engineers and the flight test crew.
The A350 XWB step by step
Video Time lapse video from delivery of major components to Final Assembly Line to the installation of Trent XWB engines.
Flight Simulators: Going from Virtual reality to reality.
Before ever sitting in the cockpit of MSN1, the first flyable A350 XWB, the flight test pilots and engineers will have spent dozens, if not hundreds, of hours inside of flight simulators familiarising themselves with the layout and functions of that real aircraft.
Airbus has 14 different simulators, each one devoted to a member of the Airbus family of aircraft. These simulators are busy all day, every day.
For an aircraft in development, such as the A350 XWB, there are two different types of simulators – AC0 (Aircraft Zero) and AC-1 (Aircraft Minus 1) – and they are quite different in how they work.
Marie-Christine Mairet-Cazin, simulator manager, talked about AC-1: "It's more of a prototype. The interior looks just like a real cockpit, but the controls are linked to PCs, not to actual moving parts. Today's aircraft are much more technologically advanced than those of even 10 years ago. So one of the main roles of AC-1 is testing functions such as the enhanced Brake to Vacate and Runway Overrun Prevention System, two systems designed to reduce the chance of accidents on runways."
But another key role AC-1 has is measuring what is known as HMI: Human-Machine Interface. With so many systems and functions and displays in a cockpit, pilots can feel overwhelmed. Making sure that the HMI is as user-friendly as possible is vital to ensuring safety and AC-1 helps fine-tune how the final displays and functions will look and work.
When the simulator team is confident in the design and functionality of the 'virtual aircraft' in AC-1, they move on to AC0. This simulator is coupled with the 'Iron Bird,' a complex system which hosts all of the aircraft's electrical and hydraulic systems. For the A350 XWB programme, AC0 began operation in June 2012.
Tests in AC0, unlike in AC-1, are used to validate the systems, functions or equipment in a real operating environment. Thanks to the Iron Bird system, when something is tested, there is a corresponding part or system that moves. For example, if the test pilot wants to retract the landing gear, the landing gear connected to the Iron Bird system will actually retract.
For AC0, the simulator team will develop programmes to cover every possible scenario they can think of, not only to test the pilots, but the aircraft itself. The designers will introduce air traffic and weather conditions, simulated failures in hydraulics or electronics, and more. Observers will watch the crew to gauge their reactions and after each testing session, the crew and the engineers will hold debriefing sessions.
Recently, Peter Chandler, lead flight test pilot for MSN1, said that the sessions in the two AC0 simulators – twice weekly for four-to-five hours at a time – help the crew improve their familiarity with the aircraft. As the first flight approaches, he said the crew is focusing more on gaining further insight on the aircraft's limits. "Everything is going well so far," he said. "But we'll have a very busy time ahead of the first flight."
“Making Sure it’s ‘All Systems Go’”
“To have an aircraft that isn’t just certified, but mature from its very first flight.”
Every aircraft has dozens of systems.
- Hydraulic systems control the movement of the flaps, landing gear, and ailerons – any big moving part of the aircraft’s structure.
- Electrical systems provide power to the aircraft and provide backup power for the flight controls.
- Fuel systems make sure that fuel gets from the myriad of fuel tanks to the engines.
- Computer systems ensure that the aircraft operates in the safest and most efficient way possible.
And before any aircraft is certified by aviation authorities and delivered to a customer, those systems – all of those systems and each of their sub-systems – must work as designed and promised.
For an existing aircraft type, one in serial production, such as the A320 or the A380, the systems tests are known and experience has lead to improvements or streamlining of the process.
But for an all-new aircraft, one with new technologies and materials, such as the A350 XWB, nothing about systems testing is routine.
Mark Cousin, head of systems integration test, leads a team of 300 or so people – “About half of them are working on the A350 XWB” – located in Toulouse, France; Filton, UK; and Bremen, Germany.
For the team, one significant change from prior aircraft programmes is the A350’s use of a 230-volt electrical system, instead of the old 115-volt system. This allows the use of thinner wires throughout the aircraft, which helps reduce weight. But Mark said the use of composite carbon-fibre materials in the aircraft structure added a challenge: “Typically, in an aircraft, you can ground to any metallic structure. But because of the composites, we needed to have a dedicated return current path.”
Testing on the A350 began long ago. “We started integration testing – linking one function to another – back at the end of 2010,” Mark said, “but our suppliers have been testing even longer.” That raises a question: How is testing done when there isn’t an actual aircraft? The answer: By using Aircraft 0 (AC0), an ‘integration simulator’ coupled to a complex test rig known as the ‘Iron Bird.’ Operating since mid-2012, AC0 has the same size and geometry of the aircraft being tested. Hooked up to more than 90 computers and with all of a real aircraft’s systems, Mark said, “It’s the closest you can get to having an actual aircraft on the ground.”
Of course, the current focus of the team is preparing for the first flight of MSN1, the first flyable A350 XWB. But afterward, in another change from prior programmes, the team will do as much routine testing as possible of systems, such as the auto-pilot and auto-land systems. By doing so, Mark said this will enhance the aircraft’s maturity upon delivery to the customer.
The team and the flight test crews have spent thousands of hours in the simulator performing tests under every scenario they could think of with one goal in mind: “To have an aircraft that isn’t just certified, but mature from its very first flight.”