World of Knowledge (Australia) - - Experts In This Issue -

Test pi­lot

The for­mer mil­i­tary pi­lot has spent over a year of his life high above the clouds. He knows bet­ter than any­one what a plane has to be able to with­stand to be ap­proved.

With a top speed of nearly 950km/h and a $470 mil­lion price tag, the 74-me­tre A350 is the lat­est high-tech air­liner from Air­bus. It’s sched­uled to en­ter ser­vice next year, but for a long pe­riod of time the 440-pas­sen­ger colos­sus could only be flown in a sim­u­la­tor. Six men had to prove that none of the en­gi­neers and me­chan­ics had made a mis­take dur­ing its seven-year de­vel­op­ment pe­riod. The jet took to the skies for the first time above Toulouse in France, with a take-off weight of 221 tons. “The plane was stripped to the bone to make room for 20 tons’ worth of mea­sur­ing equip­ment and masses of ca­bles,” ex­plains ex­per­i­men­tal test pi­lot Martin Scheuermann. Four en­gi­neers in the cabin be­hind him mon­i­tored the plane’s progress, send­ing gi­ga­bytes of data and cam­era im­ages from an aerial es­cort back to ground con­trol. Bal­last tanks sim­u­lated a full load dur­ing the four-hour flight over south­ern France, the start of a four-month test­ing marathon. But what sorts of tests is a pas­sen­ger plane sub­jected to? Where do they take place? And what ex­actly con­sti­tutes safe?

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