I was saddened to read in the news last week that EADS said that production of the Airbus A380 will be delayed a further year (Forbes). I’ve outlined some of my thoughts on some technical aspects of the A380 programme below, but I’d also recommend checking out John Bruggeman’s recent blog for his insights into the business impact of this delay.
Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a Professional Engineering Institutions lecture "A380 – Meeting The Challenge", which was given by Iain Gray, Managing Director of Airbus UK. The lecture covered a number of the technical challenges of designing and building the Airbus A380 (wikipedia), including the state-of-the-art wings (for more information about this see Roger Dettmer’s excellent article "Big Bird Gets Its Wings" on the IET website).
However, I hadn’t anticipated some of the logistical challenges which also needed to be overcome, one which I can recall quite vividly, is the transportation of the A380’s enormous wings from the Broughton UK manufacturing plant to the assembly plant at Toulouse in France. The can’t be transported by air because they are too big to fit in any existing cargo aircraft, so instead have to be by shipped by sea, which has in turn involved new engineering challenges itself, for example the design of special barges to transport the wings along shallow rivers.
The lecture also included some great footage of the assembly of the A380 and some test flights. Although the A380 looks big in 2-D, I didn’t really appreciate the sheer size of the aircraft until I saw it in the metal at the Farnborough Air Show this summer. I was trying to work out why this was the case, and I think must have something to do with the proportions of the A380 – everything is big but in relative proportion, so unless you see it next to another aircraft, it’s hard to appreciate its immense scale from drawings or digital images.
However, the A380’s sister aircraft, the A340-600, seems big when seen in isolation, because it has an elongated fuselage in comparison. I hope you’ll see what I mean from the these two photos which I took at the Farnborough Air Show, the first showing the A380 taxiing, with the A340-600 airborne, and the other showing the opposite. It makes me wonder if there’s the future potential for an extended A380 to carry even more passengers or perhaps cargo?
One last thing, I was struck me by the quietness of the A380’s Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines (wikipedia) while at Farnborough. I was fairly close to the runway when I took the above photos, and I expected to be deafened by the roar on take-off, but I wasn’t, the engines were almost eerily quiet. I hope to hear their whisper again soon.