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Paris park

Dominatrix

Gary Parsons looks back at the big trade show of 2005, the Paris Air Salon, held over 13 - 19 June. Pictures by the author and Bob Franklin

Dominating the proceedings at Paris Air Salon 2005 was Airbus's latest creation, the leviathan A380 double-decker airliner.

It dominated the scene in every aspect - its bulk couldn't be missed in the static park, and it filled the sky twice on the opening day, performing in front of the French President Jacques Chirac. It was the talk of the press pack, with international media transmitting live pictures of its first demonstration and giving it coverage not seen since the glory days of Concorde - it seems Europe has taken a pride in its latest aviation venture. It's no coincidence that its registration is F-WWOW…

Taking pride of place in the flying programme, it flew shortly after Airbus's other offerings of the A318 baby and A340-600 - so we had the smallest, the longest and the largest of the Airbus family. Contrasting markedly with the sleek and slender A340, the A380 can't claim to be the most attractive aircraft to leave Airbus's design computers in recent years, being more Jo Brand than Kate Moss. But, like Jo Brand, there's a certain fascination in seeing what she'll do next, and test pilot Jacques Rosay performed some remarkably tight turns in an aircraft that has only been flying for a couple of months. Rosay kept the undercarriage extended for the whole of the routine, primarily because it takes a full thirty seconds for the cycle to complete - this would have unnecessarily extended the display time in a schedule that was quite tightly controlled. Flying the A380 with Rosay (chief test pilot) were Wolfgang Absmeier (engineering test pilot), Gérard Desbois (chief test flight engineer), Didier Ronceray (flight test engineer) and Fernando Alonso (flight test engineer and flight test director, and no relation to the prospective 2005 F1 World Champion!).

All the President's men
French President Jacques Chirac, Minister of Defence Michele Alliot-Marie and Minister of Transport Dominique Perben, opened Le Bourget 2005 on 13 June. Accompanied by EADS Chairman Arnaud Lagardère, Airbus President and CEO Noël Forgeard, Airbus Chief Operating Officer Gustav Humbert and Vice President Flight Division Claude Lelaie, who piloted the A380's first flight, the official party began their visit to the show with a close-up look at the A380, taking the opportunity to tour the inside of the aircraft before it left the static display to prepare for the inaugural flight display.

The A380 is a further example of European collaboration at its best - sixteen manufacturing sites across Europe contribute in the manufacture of the giant beast. The front and rear sections of the fuselage are made in Hamburg - the wings at Filton in Bristol and Broughton in North Wales and the main fuselage and tail sections in Cadiz. Final assembly of all the component parts happens at Toulouse where wider roads, extra canal systems and barges were developed to handle the massive A380 parts. After assembly, the aircraft are flown to Hamburg to be finished and painted.

A380 will be sold in two versions: a freighter and the A380-800, carrying 555 passengers in a three-class configuration, or up to 800 passengers in single-class economy. Fourteen airlines have ordered the A380 to date with orders standing at 154, including 27 freighter versions. Airbus CEO Noel Forgeard has said he expects to sell 750 of the aircraft, at an individual cost of $264 million - Airbus needs to sell about 250 to break even, but the signs are positive of further orders to follow. Airbus does not publish the number of options it grants to airlines on top of firm orders or interim commitments contained in a Memorandum of Understanding. Forgeard said, "With 149 orders from 14 airlines, including the most recent order from UPS, plus options, we are not far from the 250 which we expected to reach by 2008." He added that China would probably buy the A380 soon, so that Air China could use the 555 seat double-decker jets for the 2008 Olympics.

Entry into commercial service was planned with Singapore Airlines for March 2006, however Airbus stakeholder BAE Systems said the 555-seat A380 plane was being delayed by problems with systems. "Some of the systems are not as they should be on the A380," BAE chief executive Mike Turner told a meeting of journalists late on Sunday. He said sorting out those problems was key to moving forward with the mid-sized A350 given that Airbus engineers were already being stretched by the A380 as well as work on developing the A400M military transport plane. "At the moment, we are committed to (ensuring) the reliability of the A380 and doing the A400M," said Turner. Airbus chief Noel Forgeard said that delays "won't have any significant impact" on the company's 2006 results. Forgeard attributed the delays to electrical problems and that Airbus was continuing to target delivering the A380 to Singapore Airlines in the latter part of 2006.

Boeing was pushed out of the limelight, and had little to offer the news-hungry media in the civilian sector. On hand was a static 777, but attention was reserved for the first 767 multi-role tanker transport destined for the Italian Air Force - in the military sector, Boeing could at least hold its own.

The tanker, called Italy #1, the first of four new aerial refuelling tankers destined for the Italian Air Force, lifted off from McConnell Air Force Base, Wichita, Kansas on 9 June for the twelve-hour flight to Le Bourget. "We are extremely proud of the KC-767A," said Lt Col Roberto Poni, the on-site Italian Air Force liaison officer to the tanker programme. "Together we have managed some significant challenges and, together, we will perfect this much needed asset." The new Italian tanker, which has an open architecture cockpit and advanced aerial refuelling boom with a remote aerial refuelling operator station, was unveiled publicly only three months ago. The flight to Paris is incorporated into a rigorous flight test and aerial refuelling certification programme that will total about 900 flight hours on completion. Boeing is scheduled to deliver the aircraft to the Italian Air Force in Spring 2006. The second Boeing 767 scheduled for modification into a KC-767A tanker has been delivered to the Aeronavali modification centre near Naples, Italy. "Boeing has a great launch customer in the Italian Air Force," said Jim O'Neill, Boeing vice president and Tanker program manager. "This is a completely new aerial refuelling aircraft, designed with capabilities uniquely suited for the security needs of today and tomorrow."

A new pair of trainers

New aircraft alongside the A380 included two new intermediate jet trainers, Italy's AerMacchi M346 and India's HAL HJT-36 (Hindustan Jet Trainer) IJT (rather unremarkably standing for Intermediate Jet Trainer).

The M-346 offers the pilot carefree handling through a quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire flight control system. Developed by BAE Systems, the electronic flight control system includes quad flight control computers, aircraft transducer units, magnetic azimuth detectors, air temperature sensors, integrated multifunctional probes, and pilot interface transducers. The electronic suite provides the aircraft's stability control, 'g' limiting, stall and spin prevention, and adaptability to multiple degrees of automation and autopilot modes. Designed for combat pilot training, the aerodynamic M-346 is manoeuvrable and can be controlled at an angle of attack exceeding forty degrees. It features a high thrust-to-weight ratio and has demonstrated outstanding field performance, with a take-off run of 400 meters, a landing distance of 520 meters. The aircraft can carry weapons that include bombs, rocket launchers, air-to-air missiles, and air-to-ground missiles. "We're aiming to cut by half the time a trainee fast-jet pilot spends in the operational conversion unit," AerMacchi's Pierclaudio Iaia said at Paris. "Eurofighter flying hours cost around Euro 35,000 each - you do the maths." M-346 chief project engineer Iaia was talking about AerMacchi's target for cost savings resulting from the implementation of embedded tactical simulation in the new advanced trainer. With pilots likely to put in around 100 flying hours in Typhoon OCUs, the potential economies could run to several tens of millions of euros a year if Italy, as looks possible, adopts the M-346.

Flown by HAL's Chief Test Pilot, Sqn Ldr Baldev Singh, the HJT-36 is designed as an intermediate jet trainer to replace the IAF's aging Kiran aircraft. It first flew in March 2004 and by the end of May 2005 prototypes had completed 140 flights for flight evaluation, with initial operational clearance expected by 2007. A unique design feature of HJT-36 is the view from its rear cockpit from where the instructor gets a generous angle of view over the trainee pilot. The cockpit is ergonomically designed with lightweight ejection seats and pressurised to a 3,000m altitude. It is capable of using air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons and can be used for general flying, navigational formation flying, instrument & cloud flying, tactical flying, night flying, basic air-to-air weapon aiming and air to ground weaponry. The specified maximum take off weight is 4,500 Kg including 1,000 Kg of armament on five hard points, which can also carry gun pods and drop tanks. Snecma is in talks with HAL for the supply of its Larzac engines for the HJT-36. To enable this Bangalore-based Snecma Aerospace India, a 100 per cent subsidiary of Snecma, would double its workforce to 300 by the end of 2005 - the Larzac engine for HJT-36 is already in service in the French and Belgian air forces, among other nations.

Pulling a Flanker

Certainly holding its own in the flying demonstrations was the company's F/A-18F Super Hornet, pitched in battle for the first time against Sukhoi's Su-37 Flanker. Le Flankere, for so long the star of airshows since the early nineties, was finally overshadowed by an awesome display from the Hornet, the latter's agility with a full weapons load quite remarkable. Boeing test pilot Ricardo Traven, famous for his Fairford and Farnborough demonstrations in the UK last year was again at the controls and seems to have made the 2005 routine even tighter, if that was possible.

For a Paris virgin such as your scribe, comparisons with Farnborough are inevitable. There are certainly a lot more aircraft at Paris, although not necessarily that many more new military types. Helicopters and bizjets abound, with a similar array of modern military hardware that you would expect to see in Hampshire - the usual line of American products 'borrowed' from active units, such as the F-15E from the 48th FW, RAF Lakenheath. Paris, not benefiting from the rolling topography Farnborough enjoys, fills the crowdline with hospitality chalets to the extent there isn't a crowdline left - only on the public days is a small area set aside for the public to actually see the runway! Without a press pass it's impossible to get a good view of the flying display, as you're pushed right back in the static park to see over the tops of the hospitality complex, making the display line even further away. Flying is undertaken at similar heights and distance as Farnborough, i.e. almost in the next county, and even though your scribe was fortunate enough to get into the press enclosure only the A380 filled the frame with a 300mm lens plus 1.4x converter. True, Paris has had its share of incidents over the years, but many items were just too far away to clearly see what manoeuvres were being performed - the helicopters being the worst affected, with the Dhruv being no more than a speck in the sky.

Otherwise it's a typical trade show, and one could quite easily have been at Berlin or, to a lesser extent, Farnborough (at least there was a decent number of aircraft at Paris). This familiarity serves to reinforce our opinion that the three shows should become triennial, enabling full attention to be paid for each and the chance for some variety to be instilled. With just one major show per year to focus on, the aircraft manufacturers would be able to reduce costs and fully focus resources for a single major push each year in the European sector - discounting Middle East and Asian shows, of course. However, of the three Paris seems to be in a dominant position - something for the others to aim for?

 

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