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Airbus evolution: Can you spot the difference?

By: Dave Gunner

December 23, 2019

One glimpse at that picture above and any Airbus A350 pilot, engineer or aficionado will be able to tell that it's either G-VLUX or G-VPOP. Here's how:

When the first version of the Airbus A350 entered service in 2015, it had been in development for 11 years. It was designed by the brightest minds and most sophisticated computer programmes, all backed up by a vigorous testing and certification programme. The result is a reliable, comfortable, and incredibly safe aircraft.

But for all that, we never stop learning about these extraordinary machines. As we fly them more, and as new technologies emerge or mature, new opportunities to improve the aircraft come to light. These improvements can come from a number of sources, such as customer feedback or as a result of the telemetric monitoring that watches each aircraft every second of the day. They can be anything from tiny little tweaks to larger adjustments, especially if, for example, they have to be applied to each seat or overhead locker! They certainly keep our engineers on their toes. Even the Boeing 747, a design that harks back to the 1960s, is still being refined, modified and updated.

If you look closely at our first four Airbus A350 aircraft, you can see this evolution yourself. A couple of subtle differences are visible between our first two A350s – G-VLUX and G-VPOP – and our newest two, G-V-PRD and G-VJAM.

Spot the difference 1: landing lights

Aircraft landing lights ensure pilots can see and be seen. On the nose wheel leg are three clusters of lights. Taxi lights are normally turned on when all the ground staff have moved away from the aircraft and it’s been given permission to start taxiing. These allow the pilots to see the taxiway markings ahead of the aircraft. 

Lower down on the undercarriage leg are the take-off lights. These are turned on once the aircraft is on the runway and has been given permission to take off. Their purpose is to help the pilot see the runway and to alert everyone on the ground that the aircraft is on its take-off roll. The lights turn off automatically as the wheels are retracted. The pilots will then reset the switches as part of their departure check list. (The big lights embedded in the leading edge of the wings will remain on while the aircraft is below 10,000 feet to aid visibility.) 

“On the A350, because of its size, we have taxi aid cameras on the tail and the belly. These are the same ones that the passengers can watch on their TV’s. When we select this function in the cockpit, extra lights fitted to the fuselage light up areas around the wing to assist us taxiing, especially useful in tight turns. You can how these work in this picture.” – Captain Chris Pohl

Also part of the take-off light cluster are the runway turn-off lights. These point out at an angle away from the nose to help see when turning. But back to our A350s and their lights.

On the left you can see G-VLUX, otherwise known as Red Velvet, our first A350. Along with G-VPOP (our second aircraft) she was fitted with traditional lightbulbs of the kind installed in aircraft for decades. On the right is G-VJAM, which along with G-VPRD has the new 3 flat panel LED lights fittedThis is Airbus A350 evolution in actionLED technology has improved since the original specification of the aircraft  – the new LED lights are cooler, lighter, and more reliable (though they produce the same amount of light) – and re-certification was required to fit them. All that takes time. Now they’ve been certified, the new LED lights will be fitted as standard. 

Spot the difference 2SSA (Side Slip Angle) Probes

Caption. On the right is G-VLUX with the three sensors and on the left G-VJAM without. 

This one’s a bit more technical. If you look closely around the nose of the aircraft, you can see an array of sensors. These form part of the Air Data and Inertial Reference System – in other words, they feed flight parameters to the pilots, such as the angle the aircraft is flying, the outside temperature, and the barometric and static pressure.

As the A350 entered service, Airbus still wanted to gather more information to compare the data between different systemsthat help pilots fly on approach in crosswinds. To do that, a few early models had extra probes added to cross check the data from the other instruments. You can see these three extra vanes on the front of the aircraft just below the ‘Zorro’s Mask’ windscreens. Having now gathered enough side slip information to establish that they’re not required, they’re being removed on all new A350s. They’ll also be taken off our first two aircraft in the coming months, which will save weight and maintenance costs.

Touch capable screens

While these modifications are the ones you can see, many other improvements are happening out of sight. When our next group of A350s arrive next year they’ll have the latest Airbus innovation on the flight deck. Of the A350 XWB cockpit’s six large screens, three will be touch capable: the two outer displays plus the lower-centre display.

This new touch capability is available when pilots are using their Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) applications, which help flight crews seamlessly perform flight management tasks. The touchscreens represent a new method of input, which complements the existing physical keyboard integrated into the retractable table in front of each pilot, and also the keyboard and trackball “keyboard-cursor control unit” (KCCU) located on the centre console. It’ll bring enhanced operational efficiencies, greater crew interaction, cockpit symmetry and smoother information management. All of which makes this amazing aircraft even better. We can’t wait to hear what Airbus have got planned next.

Here’s a short video from Airbus that explains it in more detail.

Dave Gunner

Dave Gunner

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