An important step
Well before their service entry, every new Airbus jetliner programme undergoes a rigorous certification campaign to determine characteristics and fundamental parameters of the aircraft, and demonstrate that it is compliant with the highest quality and safety standards.
Carrying the load
Evaluations in a typical Airbus certification campaign include both ground and flight testing.
Structural and static tests are ground-based evaluations that determine how the wings and fuselage behave with normal and exceptional loads. Major airframe components are subjected to maximum load levels during this testing, which usually spans a year-long certification programme.
Fatigue testing examines how the main aircraft structure responds to typical loading over an extended period of time, and covers a range of different operational stages – including taxiing, take-off, cruising and landing.
Pushing to the limit
To recreate the fatigue conditions, the airframe is loaded via hydraulic jacks activated and controlled by computer systems. The tests push the aircraft structure to its limits, validate that the aircraft can cover its design lift goal and identify whether any design improvements are necessary.
After certification, more tests are conducted to load the aircraft fuselage and wings to their breaking point, which is known as the “ultimate load test” – ensuring this occurs at or beyond the predicted design load.
Testing and recording data
Most certification flight tests are conducted with the initial production aircraft for a given programme, which are specially equipped with flight test instrumentation. The trials typically are completed in the presence of the airworthiness authorities, who approve and validate the test results.
Airborne evaluations include “flutter testing” – which examines the total aircraft structure’s behavior when subjected to vibrations throughout the design domain.
Additional checks range from the VMU test to demonstrate speeds at which the aircraft can take-off with maximum achievable pitch attitude on ground to “cold soak” and “hot and high” tests, which validate the full functionality of systems in extreme weather conditions. Water ingestion tests – during which the aircraft performs several take-off rolls through an artificially-created water trough -- is performed to ensure optimal functioning of the engines, thrust reversers and braking systems in wet airport conditions.