Qantas Flight 32
The Airbus A-380 is a marvel in the air. (Or, rather a village in the air.) The all economy version of the super-jumbo jet can carry 800 passengers and crew more than a third of the way around the world. The A-380 is almost 50% larger than a Boeing-747 and has a second deck that stretches the length of the aircraft. It is enormous: it’s about eight stories high and 237 feet in length with a wingspan even longer—261 feet. The maximum take-off weight is 617 tons and the aircraft is powered by four engines, in the case of QF-32, by the Rolls Royce Trent 900.
A380 on takeoff. (Gonzalez / Airplane-pictures.net)
There is great competition within the commercial aircraft industry to build planes that have the lowest achievable operating cost per passenger. A lighter aircraft that is very fuel efficient and that has a long range is likely to be more attractive to airlines that are closely watching the bottom line and struggling to turn a profit. The A-380 is so large that it can allow some carriers to reduce their number of weekly flights on a given route, a very attractive prospect.
The large capacity is partly due to the introduction of new light-weight materials in aircraft construction. Aluminum remains the material most often used but about 20% of the aircraft is a combination of high strength plastics and various carbon fiber combinations. The wing box, one of the strongest areas of any aircraft, is made entirely out of carbon fiber reinforced plastic on the A-380.
Airbus aircraft are also noted for their automated and highly sophisticated flight decks and flight control systems. Unlike their predecessors, there are no cables and pulleys running the length of the fuselage to move flight control surfaces. In fact, on the A-380, there isn’t a yoke at all, it has been replaced with a gamers’ joystick although it is placed off to the side, thus earning the name "side stick." The aircraft is controlled by a highly sophisticated and integrated series of computers which respond to pilot commands and are designed to only allow inputs that conform to operating specifications.
A380 cockpit photo by Naddsy
The flight deck has been compared to an office. There are few gauges, per se. It is a "glass cockpit" where flight and operating systems data are displayed on a series of video screens. The A-380 is equipped with an Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor (ECAM), which as the name suggests, is a key source of information regarding all aspects of the aircraft’s systems and performance. It is a redundant system that is designed to not only alert the flight crew of abnormalities, but to prioritize them in terms of their potential to affect flight safety using various colors and warning sounds. It also displays actions to be taken to deal with the detected fault. There are three levels of alert: Red, Amber and Caution. A red alert indicates a danger situation such as an engine fire or loss of cabin pressure requiring immediate action.
Tomorrow: Part 2 – Bang! (Part 2 is posted HERE.)
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