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?