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DAY 6

DAY 6

MEET THE PILOTS WHO TAKE THE TEST

The spirit of the A300 test flight lives on today

When Airbus was formally created in December 1970, few commentators thought that our early pioneers could turn their plans for the world’s first twin-engine widebody into reality. But in October 1972, the first A300 took to the air, a month ahead of schedule. 

The aircraft and team had been ready to fly a few days before, though bad weather kept them grounded. But by the morning of Saturday 28, despite the high winds, the first test flight team were raring to go and the plane took to the skies.


“So the first Airbus flew today, and flew well. 3 years and 5 months after programme launch, which is, I think, a great success.”

Bernard Zeigler, 1972

The wind, which had already been high on take-off, strengthened during the flight, becoming a very high crosswind in which to conduct the landing.

Film footage of the day shows what looks like terrifying drift as the plane lands almost like a crab on the tarmac. However the pilots had mastered how to handle the aircraft and recalled that it looked worse from the ground than the cockpit. 

But who were those first test pilots? Bernard Ziegler (son of Airbus founding father Henri Ziegler) had been asked to organise the A300 flight test. 

He took what was at that time a pioneering step by gathering an international team – including Aerospatiale veteran Max Fischl as well as British and Spanish test pilots – to reflect the unique set-up of the company. 

Yet on the day, Max Fischl was captain, while Bernard Ziegler, then head of flight test, was his number two. 

Bernard explained: “It was a kind of tradition that the boss was in charge of making the first flight, but I took the decision to reverse that, to make it a team effort. I was not willing to have a star in the system…The decision was to the surprise of the Airbus management of that time, Béteille and my father.”

Despite the important work they do to meticulously check performance data and handing qualities on each new aircraft, Airbus test pilots still maintain this attitude today – focusing not on themselves but on the other pilots who will fly the aircraft. 

As former Chief Test Pilot Peter Chandler describes, “You’re trying to put yourself in the place of an airline pilot, and say ‘OK I can fly that, but then I’ve been practising this all day.’ Is an airline pilot at the end of a long overnight flight, in difficult weather conditions, going to find it easy to fly?” 

The task of each Airbus test pilot is the same as Bernard Ziegler’s task on the 28 October 1972: ensuring that the star of the system is always the aircraft. 


“It was a kind of tradition that the boss was in charge of making the first flight, but I took the decision to reverse that, to make it a team effort. I was not willing to have a star in the system.”

Bernard Ziegler

Day 1: THE MOMENT TWO SIGNATURES MADE EUROPE FLY

Day 1: THE MOMENT TWO SIGNATURES MADE EUROPE FLY

France and Germany commit to the A300 programme

Day 3: UP CLOSE WITH THE WORLD’S MOST FLOWN WIDEBODY

Day 3: UP CLOSE WITH THE WORLD’S MOST FLOWN WIDEBODY

Since the 1990s, the versatile A330 has carried over 1 billion people

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