Airbus A350-900 first flight : Toulouse adventure

After years of development, the 787’s nemesis, the A350 XWB was finally ready to launch in summer 2013. A perfect chance to see a first flight for the first time! 

Finding the right spot

Flying to Toulouse was out of my budget so carpooling turned out to be a viable alternative. We took off from Grenoble in the afternoon and 5 hours later, we were in “Pink city”. A long tram ride, one tasty pizza and a skate ride later, the airport was starting to reveal its shiny new treasures!

Since it was a fairly warm mid june day, I figured I’d just spend the night outside, on the hill overlooking the runway.  After taking a few nightshots of aircraft parked next to the delivery center, I headed to the famous hill to lie down and stretch my legs.

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The latest 2013 trend: the sharklets

As I was walking through the high grass approaching the spot, it became apparent I wasn’t the only one in the area! Three other spotters had the same idea and came in to spend the night before the first flight. After a quick chat, i was offered a beer and the airport chill continued until early morning hours!

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At some point, it was time to get some sleep. 2 minutes after I lied down, it started pouring! The guys didn’t hesitate long and offered me a seat in their car. Much appreciated!

The build up

The next morning treated us with a stunning sunrise as well as a few early morning departures.

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5:22am

3 Belugas departed on their mission to get parts from Spain, UK or Germany to Toulouse for final assembly.

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None of these A320s will ever be seen again in Europe after they leave. At least not in these liveries.

The A350 was scheduled to takeoff at 9 am. There were multiple camera crews on the hill, covering the event. The guys got interviewed by a few TV stations, who were very amused by their home made spotting platform. Slowly but surely, the hill was getting crowded.

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The  CEBU A333 also took off for its delivery flight and it sure didn’t look far from a tail strike!

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Show time

Shortly before 9, the young bird finally came into view, slowly lined up on runway 32L, the main flight test runway, and waited.

After a few minutes, a small plane could be seen approaching the runway. It was the Corvette chase plane, meaning the show was on!

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At precisely 9:00, the brand new A350’s engines spooled up and after a short takeoff roll, it was in the air, climbing like a gull in an updraft!

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As it passed in front of us, there was a huge and well diserved applause. After it dissapeared in the clouds, it was time to get moving to the landing spot.

Back to earth

Not far from the threshold of rwy 32L, a good crowd had already gathered, waiting for the landing. 4 hours after taking off, the star appeared on the glideslope and to everyone’s surprise, performed a low pass before entering a right hand, low altitude circuit!

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The second approach was for real this time.

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The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to good old spotting and catching a few test flights.

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As the evening was approaching, it was time to head back to the center.

At the hostel, I met a fellow Slovak and adventurer, Tomas, and we ended up having dinner, a beer and a good chat together. The next morning, it was time to head back to Grenoble.

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Back to the present though. Yesteday evening, after finding out that the -1000 version will be flying this thursday, I immediately arranged for a little trip to Airbus capital. The triple seven killer is ready to spread its wings, and it’s happening in two days!

Stay tuned for the Next episode…

by Philippe Lachenal

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