At 10:42 local time, at Toulouse Blagnac Airport, the first Airbus A350-1000 prototype (F-WMIL, MSN 59) made its first flight in front of a crowd of proud employees, dignitaries, invited media and hundreds of aviation enthusiasts.
Airbus’ largest twin-engine jetliner flawlessly lifted off the ground, drying the waterlogged runway with 97,ooo lbs of thrust from each Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97, the highest thrust powerplant ever built by the manufacturer.
Followed by a Dassault Falcon 20 chase plane, F-WMIL carried out a 4 Hour 20 Minute sortie over Southwestern France before returning to base at 15:22 local time. The progress of the flight was monitored from the ground in real time via a direct telemetry system.
The maiden flight was commanded by Experimental Test Pilots Hugues van der Stichel and Frank Chapman and Test Flight Engineer, Gérard Maisonneuve. The staff at the flight test instrumentation station behind the cockpit were Patrick du Che, Head of Flight and Integration Tests; Emanuele Costanzo, Head of A350 Development Test Flights; and Stephane Vaux, Flight Test Engineer.
After landing, once parked nose-to-nose with the first A350-900 to be built (F-WXWB, MSN 1), the crew made some comments to the crowds along with Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Bregier.
van der Stichel also praised the maneuverability of the jetliner. “The aircraft was very smooth, and I can tell you we are very lucky. The sun is over there, and the Pyrenees are white [with snow].”
Chapman also commented about the flying characteristics of the A350-100, describing these as “remarkable (…) in terms of handling and performance. One of the things that is interesting to us as pilots, is to see how a stretch affects handling. I am pleased to say it was remarkably similar to the -900. It was a real pleasure.”
Stéphane Vaux gave an update on the tests that were performed. “We opened the flight envelope from the minimum speed, 140 knots, to the maximum speed at flight level 100, then we climbed to flight level 250 at 340 knots, which is the maximum speed [at that altitude],” he said.
“What a great flight. Congratulations, guys. This is the second member of the 350 family, but we don’t get used to it, so there was as much emotion as there was for the first flight of A350-900.” Fabrice Brégier said.
Airbus’ CEO also admitted that the A350-800 has been put on hold.
Brégier and other Airbus executives claim that the lack of interest on the Airbus A350-800 relies on the economics of the A350-900 Ultra Long Range (ULR) variant, expected to launch with Singapore Airlines in 2018, and the A330neo program.
As of this date, the orders for the A350-1000 stand at 195 from 11 customers, including launch customer Qatar Airways with 37 units, followed by United Airlines, the sole operator of the variant in the Americas, with 35 aircraft. Virgin Atlantic is the most recent customer with 12 aircraft ordered.