Bjorn’s Corner: Flying the Airbus A350

By Bjorn Fehrm

By Bjorn Fehrm


22 May 2015, C. Leeham Co: As one of four aeronautical media companies we were asked by Airbus if we wanted to test fly the A350 end of January this year. Airbus was arranging for Media test pilots to come and fly the A350 and we had asked for sampling the A350 through its simulator. Airbus returned with the question if I did not want to try the real thing. They did not have to ask twice!

It was all in the preliminary planning stage at the time but come March things got concrete. I should come to Toulouse on April 22 for a full day in the simulator and then the aircraft. As I did not have previous airline flying experience (mainly military fighters and business aircraft), I started training on the rather different system approach that a civil airliner has to a military fighter for Autopilot and Autothrust. I described this training in a previous Bjorn’s Corner. Publication of this story was embargoed by Airbus to May 22.

Flying the A350

Now the time has come to describe how it was to fly the A350 and to go into the system and pilot training philosophy Airbus has for the A350. We will start with a teaser for the weekend, then follow up with several articles next week around the A350’s handling, the pilot training and finally an article about the system philosophy for A350 and how this is similar yet different from earlier Airbus aircraft.

But for now we will start with the little video film that captures the days events, enjoy!

35 Comments on “Bjorn’s Corner: Flying the Airbus A350

  1. Wow – what an experience. I was holding my breath during the landing.

  2. Another day at the office, cockpit no S35 but will do 😉

  3. Slow down!You can take the pilot out of the fighter plane,but you can’t take the fighter plane out of the pilot.
    Interestingly,theA350 is getting a bit of a slagging in flightinternationals latest poll.I thought it was a good plane in a sweet spot.

    • What poll do you mean, Mikes test flight? We had dinner after the day, we both liked the A350.

      • Question of the week, readers poll.”of limited interest to airlines “not “credible alternative to Boeing widebodies”.Polls like this are fairly unreliable it has to be said.Leeham’s resident Airbus fanatics will soon put this aberration right!

        • As a former Boeing enthusiast I resent that.

          How overall well it will do I don’t know, but it obviously has found a slot between the 787 and the 777.

          800+ sales is nothing to sneeze at and that will go well over 1000 over time

          Being balanced on the issues its some and some with Airbus well on top on how they treat people and a good product line up with historical baggage as opposed to Boeing management baggage

        • OK, got it, have read the poll in question. I don’t understand the answers, the A350 is a very well designed aircraft with engines which are clear improvements of previous generations. The same goes for 787.

          They had different starts but have 30-40 years life, both have ample stretch potential and will be iconic models.

  4. Bjorn – I know this is the A350 test flight. Did you fly the 787? Aviation Week did and I read both. Wanted to get another prospective on the two frames. I know they both are much improvements over other frames in each fleet, but the performance differences seen from another set of eyes will be intresting to read.

    • I have not flown 787 but hope to do so. The 787 and 350 have different philosophies for their flight laws and therefore the feel when you fly them. Of the two A350 is the most different from the aircraft I have flown previously. A350 was very nice to fly, I would therefore expect I would like the 787 as well.

      • Thanks. Based on the two articles I read the differences were pronounced but common to the standard design approaches. One had contorls which operated the same in autopilot, while the other had an input system that seemed old. Remember speaking with a pilot from United who said that the 787 was simply so must faster, due to less drag, that decisions had to be made earlier. I gather the same can be said about the A350? Reduced drag, improved engines makes for some changes in the laws used in prior designs. Thanks for sharing.

        • Well what the United pilot probably meant was that the low drag forces the top of decent to be earlier, this applies to the A350 as well.

    • The A350 flight deck may be “much improved”, but apparently it feels like an A330 when you’re flying it. 🙂

      While on the face of it, the new cockpit with its six huge glass display screens looks a world apart from its predecessor, the reality is that once crews have undergone conversion training the two environments feel very similar, says Christian Norden, head of A350 flight crew training at Airbus.

      When A330 pilots first enter the A350 cockpit they say ‘that’s totally different, that won’t work’, because this is not the A330,” says Norden. “At the end of the conversion course, they make their first take-off and first landing in the A350, and everyone so far has said ‘it’s an A330’.”

      • Have not flown the A330 so can not comment but Christian has a lot of experience so he should know. The A350 has a considerable improved FMS interface but that is very well made so it falls natural when one use it. More on that next week.

      • You might want it to feel close but I’m not sure you want the same feeling? The A330 and the A350 might be designed using the same principals, but removing drag has to change the flight profile? Not being a pilot but an engineer, I have to think the A350 is a much better flying machine. It’s response to system inputs have to be even slightly different? Think you’re in an A330 and you might overshoot your landing. If it’s not why not keep the A330?

        • You have to separate the aircraft’s performance and its handling, they are not related. You can therefore have different performance for A330 and 350 with still the same handling which is achieved with clever tuning of the FBW.

          BTW, a lot of today’s aircraft performance comes from more efficient engines, development in aircraft performance has been less steep.

      • Read the other article on it and while they claimed initially that it was like the A330, as reported before, the cockpit is A380 based.

        So call it what you will,

        So I am far less sure of any commonality other than the controls (automation control laws philosophy) and that would seem to be more A380 related as an ongoing evolution of Airbus and what they put into the automation than an A330.

        Just a personal opinion of course.

        • Once again you can separate the performance, the feel and the presentation. You can have A350 performance, A330 feel and A380 style presentation.

  5. Great video… were you able to get any more insights into the a350’s performance during the visit to Airbus?. I am curious as to the range of the aircraft at the 3 different takeoff weights.

    • I have asked about that, the 268t is the present standard version and it has a nominal range of 7750nm when loaded in a standard 2 class cabin with 315 passenger and their bags.

      The 275t version was certified as Airbus had margins and will be used for later variants.

  6. Congratulations Bjorn! Not only the flight was magnificent, but your way to streamline it in the video was concise while thorough. I liked it!

  7. Here are your next two assignments Bjorn:

    1. Flying the Dreamliner.
    2. Flying the CSeries.

    And don’t forget your camera.


    Normand 🙂

      • One other thing. Many years ago I read that Airbus development of its wing had enabled a performance leap over the Boeing design. Looking at the A350 wing and comparing it to the 787, the wing on the A350 appears to have a larger profile. Any comment about that in your flight test and about the wing flex? Not that you will be able to compare the two in flight test. That is until you get Scott to get you in to Boeing flight testing.

        Thanks for being willing share, it is much appreciated

        • The 787 and A350 wings have many commonalities: – virtually equal aspect ratios, drop flaps and spoilers, camber control…

          Their most significant difference is the aileron concepts which leads to the difference in wing flex.

          • “.. difference in wing flex ..”

            Isn’t that mostly due to Airbus using a “fuller” wing profile?
            Wing stiffness has an exponential (h³) link to chord/profile height. Additional benefit is reduced stress in the wing skins and thus potential for less weight. ( and room for more fuel in the wings )

          • I have looked into that, the thickness / cord ratio (t/c) could be fractionally higher on A350 but it is hard to say and it varies over the span. Wingarea is 23% larger so it is a larger wing therefore the center wingbox should be higher. Aspect ratios measured apple to apples are within 0.5% of each-other. I would be surprised if there was any significant differences in wing profiles, transonic wing design with backloaded profiles is a mature discipline. What is clear is that Boeing has stayed with inboard highspeed aileron (A300/310 had it) and wing stiffness therefore can be lower without risk of aileron reversal. It used to carry negatives in take-off L/D, therefore Airbus went to outside ailerons from A320 to A350 and an un-interupted flap line. This is no longer the case, with FBW control you can control the inboard aileron to get the same L/D, net gain a less stiff wing (and therefore probably lighter).

  8. Not just the Dreamliner but both the 787-8 and 9!!! The larger version has more control surface changes that will interesting to understand the performance differences, or even if they are noticed.

    Will you hurry up and make that happen!!!

  9. Four test pilots from four different publications were invited by Airbus to fly the A350. Those media are the following, in chronological order:

    1. Aviation Week
    2. Flight Global
    3. Air et Cosmos
    4. Leeham News and Comment

    The first three are widely recognized as the Top Three among aerospace journals. They cover all areas of aerospace: Aeronautics, Space, Avionics, etc., and they report on both military and civilian aviation in general. The fact that Leeham News and Comment were invited to take part in these trials among the Top Three, speaks volumes for the mounting reputation of this extraordinary blog. All I can say is thank you Scott and Bjorn. I know you have both been working very hard to get there. Congratulations!

    • RE: this blog. Well said @Normand.

      Congratulations Bjorn and its nice reading about your take on the new aircraft. Looking forward to more detailed stuff in the future.

      Does anyone know if Airbus will migrate the A350 cockpit design and layout to the A330neo?

    • Agreed, Well Done, it appears Airbus communications and management takes this blog, Scott and Bjorn, seriously. At least, the effect it has on opinions/ perceptions of important influencers.

      Apparently it also works well to keep us, contributors under control, Contributing positively.

      An interesting consideration could be, if Leeham would stop comments/ put everything behind the paywall, what would happen. Would it effect views, exposure, influence. Would e.g. Bjorn still be invited to test fly commercial aircraft, would Leahy still pick up the phone.

      The times just sending news and comment without open interaction, was enough to attract public, seem behind us. Airbus and Boeing understand too. No easy choices to make.

  10. Nothing I have read and probably not in the minimalist change philosophy of the project.

    It already supposedly flies like an A330, who needs the controls to be the same? (grin)

    It will be interesting to see how all that auto stuff plays out as sooner or latter it seems to bite someone who managed to have it in the wrong mode.

    • In my understanding Airbus targets an abstracted airplane model for all their FBW types as the way the flying behaviour is presented to the pilots.
      For every Airbus type the extended FBW System adapts the airframe behaviour to this abstraction model.

      Thus it is probably not quite right to say the A350 “works” like an A330.

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