A350 XWB Magazine:
#02 Warming up for First Flight
Issue #02 is our last one before MSN1 makes its maiden voyage and Airbus has been quite busy preparing. We invite you to learn about ground vibration, lightning strike, and static tests. See MSN1 being painted and having its engines powered on.
As MSN1 prepares to go from ground tests to flying tests, there was a symbolic moment: the handover from A350 XWB team to the flight test department.
“Now we get to check if all the things we’ve seen in the simulator are true.”Fernando Alonso, head of flight operations and a member of the first flight crew
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.
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 story, we take a look at the three flight test engineers: a Spaniard, a Frenchman, and an Italian. See the first edition, for the profiles of the other members of the crew.
Fernando Alonso: Head of Flight Operations
As a little boy, Fernando Alonso and his father used to have Sunday picnics outside of Madrid’s Barajas Airport and watch the planes take-off and land. He was amazed that these large metal tubes could fly and he wondered about the far-off places the people on those planes would go to. He never dreamed that someday he would take part in not one, but several, first flights for new aircraft, including those of the A340-200 in 1992, the A319 in 1997 and that of the iconic A380 in 2005.
He obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Polytechnic University of Madrid in 1979. That same year, he began his professional career with McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, California as a performance engineer in the flight test department. Three years later, he joined Airbus as a performance engineer in the flight division.
While at Airbus, Fernando graduated as a flight test engineer at the EPNER academy in Istres, France in 1990, and then became a flight test engineer responsible for aircraft performance, handling qualities and flight controls development of the A319, A321, A330 and A340.
Fernando was appointed to his current position in September 2007 and, as such, he will have more responsibilities for the A350 XWB first flight than on his previous ones.
“I have been privileged to contribute to the growth and transformation of Airbus over the last 30 years,”Fernando said.
“I am particularly proud to be part of the first flight crew for this new aircraft which represents the future of our company.”
Patrick du Ché: Head of Development Flight Tests
Spending time at his grandfather’s home in Burgundy during holidays, young Patrick du Ché would see jet fighters flying low-altitude runs. He, his sister and brothers, and cousins devised a game: when they heard an approaching jet, they would see who could identify what type it was before it came into view.
Later, inspired by stories told by his uncles and his older brother, who were officers in the French Navy, Patrick would join the Navy. Perhaps motivated by his childhood memories, he served in their Fleet Air Arm as an officer for 15 years. Specialising in aeronautic engineering and maintenance, he worked on different types of fighter and bomber aircraft and was involved in the development flight test campaign for the Rafale fighter. During his naval service, he was selected for and graduated from the EPNER academy in Istres as a flight test engineer.
He served on board the aircraft carrier Foch and two of his favourite memories are being catapulted in a training jet from the carrier’s deck and then coming back to ‘land’ on its deck. He also participated in the first aircraft tests on board the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
After leaving the Navy, Patrick joined Airbus in September 2001 as a flight test engineer. In September 2007, he was selected as the focal point for all technical matters related to the A350 XWB programme within flight tests and was also responsible for the development of the A350 XWB flight test campaign. In July 2010, he became head of production flight test and in June 2012 he was named head of development flight test.
Emanuele Costanzo: Flight Test Engineer
“When a small door closes, a larger door will open later.” With those words, young Emanuele Costanzo’s father tried to console his son. The occasion was when Emanuele applied for and was rejected as a jet fighter pilot. The reason for the rejection: Emanuele was too tall.
Still, Emanuele dreamed of flying and so when he graduated high school, he went to study aeronautical engineering at the University of Palermo, his hometown on the island of Sicily in Italy.
For the final portion of his coursework, he left Palermo and did a project at Airbus’ headquarters in Toulouse. When he graduated in 1998, he received an offer to start immediately with Airbus at the engineering design office’s powerplant group.
Nurturing his dream to fly, Emanuele used his very first paycheck to begin flying lessons at a local club, eventually earning several certifications, including his commercial pilot’s license.
In 2001, Emanuele joined the flight test department as a flight test specialist engineer. After graduating from the EPNER academy as a flight test engineer in 2004, he joined the A380 flight test engineering group. There, he was responsible for the development and certification of the powerplant and auxiliary power unit. Since then, he has worked on other Airbus flight test campaigns, including the A400M military programme and now the A350 XWB.
And when he discovered that he was selected to be a first-time member of the first flight crew, he remembered those long ago words of his father. “I called him and told him he was right,” he said. “Now the biggest door of all has opened.”
The Rolls-Royce Trent XWB Engines
Airbus’ Most Powerful Engines
Emanuele Costanzo is a flight test engineer specialising in engines and is a member of the six-person crew for the A350 XWB’s first flight. As that flight approaches, he’s been doing a lot of intense work familiarising himself with the all-new Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines. As he noted, “Engines aren’t just about thrust – they power the air conditioning, hydraulics, and electrical systems. They’re the big energy generator for the aircraft.”
Airbus doesn’t make the engines for its aircraft and for the two engines powering the A350 XWB, Airbus chose the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine to power all three members of the A350 XWB family.
According to Emanuele, even though these engines are slightly larger in diameter than those on the A380, they’re actually lighter. The engines also feature cutting-edge materials, coatings, and cooling technologies and have the latest in aerodynamic improvements.
Combined, these innovations have led to its exceptional fuel efficiency, contributing to the A350 XWB’s 25 per cent less fuel burn that its prior generation long-range competition.
But fuel savings aren’t the only benefit that the Trent XWB brings to the A350 XWB. These engines have the lowest carbon emissions of any widebody engine. They also produce less nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, smoke, and hydrocarbons.
And thanks to its innovative design, the engine is also quieter than prior generation models.
As Emanuele said,
“Rolls-Royce has done everything to optimise the engine’s fuel and noise efficiency.”
Still…an engine needs to be tested to prove what it can do.
But how do you test an engine when the aircraft it’s designed for isn’t yet complete?
The answer: you use a ‘Flying Test Bed.’
In this case, Airbus replaced one of the four engines on its own A380 development aircraft with a Trent XWB engine and on 18 February 2012, this Flying Test Bed made its first flight.
For over five hours, the aircraft covered a wide range of power settings, going from low speeds to Mach 0.9, and climbing to 43,000 feet.
Since then, the Flying Test Bed and the Trent XWB engine have flown more than 250 hours and been subjected to extreme conditions. “We have every confidence in this engine and its performance,” Emanuele said. “The engines have reacted much better than the flight test crews have to the extreme hot and cold temperatures,” he joked.
As a result of the engine’s performance during the Flying Test Bed campaign, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has certified the engine for use. On 7 February 2013 – less than one year from when the campaign started – EASA certified the engine for use on the A350-800 and -900 models.
(The engine certification process for the larger -1000 aircraft will begin later.) Certification confirms the engine has fulfilled EASA’s airworthiness requirements.
Meanwhile, the installation of the two engines on the first flight test aircraft was finished on 26 March 2013. For Emanuele and his colleagues it was a moment to remember:
“Seeing the engines under the wings, I was so emotional.”
MSN5000: The A350 XWB Static Test Aircraft
MSN5000 is like a bird in a cage: designed to fly, but never will. It’s the static test aircraft for the A350 XWB programme and it will never leave the ground.
The aircraft will be subjected to structure testing – sometimes referred to as ‘torture testing’ – in order to make sure that its brethren meet all of the structural requirements to fly. Airbus engineers will literally push – and pull – the aircraft to its limits...and beyond.
Looking at it, MSN5000 seems like a regular A350-900 aircraft, but with a few differences: the engines, tail plane and landing gear have been replaced by dummy ones.
When it was moved into a hangar on the edge of the Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in November 2012, assembly of the ‘cage’ was started. After four months of around the clock construction by 300 workers, the building and cage were complete and the aircraft was rigged for testing.
Entering the test facility, the first thing that catches your eye is the size of the enclosure. The 67-metre long aircraft is surrounded by 2000 square metres of scaffolding going up to 30 metres high. Emmanuel Bodin, head of A350 XWB Major Static Test, said, somewhat wistfully, that this enclosure is the aircraft’s ‘prison.’
Here are some of the testing numbers:
- 12,000 sensors.
- 20 kilometres of electrical wiring.
- 60 kilometres of hydraulic pipes.
- 235 jacks.
- 253 loading lines.
“Our job is to make sure that the aircraft meets our designers’ predictions, ensure that the first flight is cleared, and get the flight test envelope opened quickly.”Emmanuel said,
To do so, the team is subjecting the aircraft to 1.25 times its stated load limit before and after the first flight.
The team does most of its work by bending or ‘stressing’ the aircraft to its load limit. This means using the jacks and loading lines to push or pull – mostly pull – on different parts of the aircraft. During testing, the rear of the aircraft can move one metre from centre and, impressively, the wingtips can bend up to five metres from rest position.
“But there’s no permanent deformation of the aircraft – it returns to normal shape after the test is done at load limit,”Emmanuel said,
Even though the fuselage and wing covers of the A350 XWB are made from composite materials, Emmanuel said the stress tests are virtually identical to those used on traditional, metallic aircraft. “The difference is we’re doing more inspection on the specimen between tests,” he said, “but that’s only so our customers will have to inspect less when they take delivery.” As for the results, he said, “It’s been a joy to see these composites panels meet our expectations.”
Later, MSN5000 will be subjected to its ‘ultimate load level’ test of 1.5 times the stated load limit.
“This is more than the aircraft will ever experience and ensures that it has more than enough margin for strength.”
Finally, sometime in 2014, the team will stress the different parts of the aircraft until they break. to help us gain experience for future aircraft design. By then, MSN5000 will have served its vital purpose.
Lighter, Stronger, Tougher
The use of carbon-fibre components in the aviation industry is becoming more and more common. But for Airbus, carbon-fibre components are nothing new.
Accordingly to Chantal Fualdes, Airbus and EADS Executive Expert Composite, Airbus has used carbon-fibre materials for years.
Chantal said,“Starting with the A320, carbon-fibre was used on the vertical and horizontal tail planes. With the A340-600, we had carbon-fibre in the rear pressure bulkhead and the keel beams. And in the A380, we introduced it in the rear section of the fuselage and the centre wing-box. The leap we made with the A350 XWB is that the entire fuselage and the wing covers – more than half of the structure – are made from carbon-fibre composites.”
Engineers like carbon-fibre materials because they’re lighter, stronger and more resistant to the elements than traditional metallic ones and provide a very high strength-to-weight ratio.
“You might never guess that their origin is something similar to the human hair.”Chantal said,
Chantal explained how carbon-fibre materials are made: “Thousands of carbon filament threads are bundled together before being combined with other material to form a ‘composite material.’ For the A350 XWB structure, the carbon fibres, each about as thick as a human hair, are impregnated with epoxy resin: that’s why they’re called ‘carbon-fibre reinforced plastic.’ A ply or layer is made to the specified size and orientation and then more layers are added until the piece has the properties it needs to support the loads it will carry.”
Chantal said that one of the advantages that carbon-fibre components have is the ability to shape and tailor them to precise specifications – with bends, curves and even double curves – during the manufacturing process. “This means our engineers get components with the right physical properties: the proper strength exactly where it’s needed.”
On the A350 XWB, carbon-fibre components are used primarily in three sections of the aircraft:
Curved panels range in length from 11 to 18 metres and vary in thickness from 1.6 to 8 millimetres.
Amongst the most impressive carbon-fibre components are the upper and lower wing covers. Each one is 32 metres long by six metres wide and varies in thickness from 8 to 28 millimetres. That makes them the largest single aviation parts ever made from carbon-fibre materials.
This includes the horizontal and vertical tail planes, each with two large panels around 10 metres long.
The extensive use of these light-weight carbon-fibre components is a significant factor in the A350 XWB’s 25 per cent fuel savings previous generation long-range competitor.
In addition to fuel savings, airlines will also appreciate the corrosion-resistance properties of carbon-fibre components. “Considering the extreme conditions that aircraft operate in – high and low temperatures, high altitude cruising, rain and snow, take-offs and landings,” Chantal said, “the maintenance advantages that carbon-fibre components bring are invaluable.”
Finally, know that before, during, and after the aircraft assembly process, Airbus engineers subject each component to the most stringent testing, testing that is virtually identical to that which traditional metallic components undergo. As Chantal emphasised, “At Airbus, the safety of passengers and flight crews is our number one priority.”