The A350 XWB will continue an illustrious history of Airbus first flights

14 June 2013 Feature story

HISTORICAL FIRST FLIGHTS

When the A350 XWB goes skyward for the first time, it will mark the latest in a series of maiden flights that not only started the careers of new Airbus jetliners, but also represented major steps forward in company-developed technology, operating efficiency and productivity pioneered for customers and operators worldwide.

This history traces its roots to the initial liftoff of the A300 – the cornerstone aircraft in Airbus’ product line.  When the A300 ascended from the runway at Toulouse in southwestern France on 28 October 1972, it opened the way for all of the revolutionary Airbus jetliners that followed.   The A300 was unique for the time: offering widebody comfort in a highly capable mid-range twin-engine aircraft.

Building on the A300’s success, Airbus launched the shorter-fuselage A310 version that offered longer range while retaining commonality with its larger “sister” jetliner.  The A310 was built on the same final assembly line as the A300 at Toulouse, where it flew for the first time on 3 April 1982.

Airbus entered the single-aisle aircraft market with its twin-engine A320 Family – which changed the norms by becoming the first airliner with new technologies that included fully digital fly-by-wire controls and sidestick controllers for the pilots.  The A320’s historic first fight occurred on 22 February 1987, and continued the series of aviation milestones performed from Airbus’ headquarters location in Toulouse.

The stretched-fuselage A321 version, which retained a high degree of commonality with the A320 while offering a higher passenger capacity, was the first Airbus aircraft to be assembled in Germany – making its initial flight from the company’s Hamburg facility on 11 March 1993.  This was followed on 25 August 1995 by the maiden takeoff of the A319 – the shorter-fuselage variant that also is built on the Hamburg final assembly line.  Completing the family was the smallest version – the A318 – which went airborne for the first time on 15 January 2002 from Toulouse.

Having established itself as a world-class player in the manufacture of jetliners, Airbus then made a major step up in size and range with the four-engine A340.  Retaining the popular widebody cross-section of the A300/A310, it incorporated the proven fly-by-wire flight controls from Airbus’ A320 Family for commonality while also introducing new technologies.  Built on a separate final assembly line at Toulouse, the first A340 version – the A340-300 – joined other Airbus aircraft in performing its first maiden flight from this southwestern French airport on 25 October 1991.

Applying the successful formula of developing its product line within aircraft families, Airbus’ A330-200 with a shorter fuselage performed its first flight from Toulouse on 1 April 1992.  The stretched A330-600 version followed by making the initial takeoff on 23 April 2001 at Toulouse, with the family completed by its ultra long-range A340-500 variant, which flew for the first time on 11 February 2002 from the same location.

Moving into the very large aircraft segment, Airbus created the double-deck A380 – marking another revolution in the company’s product line development.  Also assembled at Toulouse, this 21st century flagship jetliner lifted off for the first time on 27 April 2005.

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