Behind the scenes: Onboard the A350-1000 longhaul test flight

MSN65 departs Toulouse for her ELF test.

MSN65 departs Toulouse for her ELF test.

The new Airbus A350-1000 is the next chapter in our story and on 11 May we helped it pass an important milestone. Any new airliner has years of tough tests to pass before being allowed into service. It has a lot to demonstrate; stopping on flooded runways, low-temperature flights to frozen Arctic airports or fully loaded high speed take-off aborts. As seen in this video from an earlier version of the A350, the tests can be spectacular.

Left to right on top row are: Roger Newman, Claire Jamieson, Richard Pearce, Hayley Smith, Nicki Hawkins, Gemma Baldwin. Bottom row left to right are: Ashleigh Fisher, David Harvey, Anne Spencer-Barlow, Tom Curtis, Leanne Palmer, Andrew Haill, Pippa Tucknott

Left to right on top row are: Roger Newman, Claire Jamieson, Richard Pearce, Hayley Smith, Nicki Hawkins, Gemma Baldwin.
Bottom row left to right are: Ashleigh Fisher, David Harvey, Anne Spencer-Barlow, Tom Curtis, Leanne Palmer, Andrew Haill, Pippa Tucknott

A long flight to nowhere

One little-known aspect of the test flight programme is called the ‘Early Long Flight’ (ELF) test. This involves loading the aircraft to full capacity with passengers and crew and taking it for a 12-hour flight.

Flight AIB351 took off from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport at 09:30 local time landing back there 12 hours later at 21:30

Flight AIB351 took off from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport at 09:30 local time landing back there 12 hours later at 21:30

After a three-day training course at the Airbus training centre, 13 of our cabin crew joined Airbus to operate the ELF on the latest Airbus aircraft. During the 12-hour flight around Europe, the two teams bonded and got a taste of what it’s like to work on the latest addition to our fleet.

“The ELF has been performed with enthusiasm and professionalism by both Airbus and Virgin Atlantic crew. Even if the lay-out installed on board MSN65 is an Airbus lay-out and as such, varies from the Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 lay-out, Virgin Atlantic Crew and invitees, discovered how spacious the cabin is and enjoyed the physiological comfort, due to a very low cabin altitude” said Anne Kerrien, A350XWB Cabin Ops Manager seen here with Anne Spencer-Barlow, our FSM. “We were really happy to offer Virgin Atlantic the chance of an exclusive preview of this brand new aircraft”.

“The ELF has been performed with enthusiasm and professionalism by both Airbus and Virgin Atlantic crew. Even if the lay-out installed on board MSN65 is an Airbus lay-out and as such, varies from the Virgin Atlantic A350-1000 lay-out, Virgin Atlantic Crew and invitees, discovered how spacious the cabin is and enjoyed the physiological comfort, due to a very low cabin altitude” said Anne Kerrien, A350 XWB Cabin Ops Manager seen here with Anne Spencer-Barlow, our FSM. “We were really happy to offer Virgin Atlantic the chance of an exclusive preview of this brand new aircraft. The 7 days spent in Toulouse, working closely with airbus staff, felt more like a holiday – full of fun and laughter, whilst experiencing new and exciting things – a busman’s holiday but fun all the same. We were definitely on the same wavelength!”

The passengers – mostly Airbus people who’d worked on the A350 – experienced a full onboard service, and put everything from the toilets to the entertainment through its paces. The lights, aircon, galleys and all other systems were also subject to a big shakedown ahead of the next phase of testing; the “route proving” flight.

The Virgin Atlantic crew getting used to the A350-1000 galley

The Virgin Atlantic crew getting used to the A350-1000 galley

The A350-1000 is the latest member of the A350 XWB family and is 7 metres longer than the A350-900. The A350 family of aircraft bring together the latest in aerodynamics, design and advanced technologies and a step change in operating costs compared to the current aluminium long-range competitor.

MSN65 departs Toulouse for her ELF test.

MSN065 seen taking off here on the ELF is one of three A350-1000 test aircraft and is configured with 295 seats (40 in Business and 36 in Premium Economy & 217 in Economy Class. As a reference, the A350-1000 Airbus typical 3-class layout allows to seat 366 passengers.

Here’s what some of our crew had to say:

“It was great to see passengers opening wardrobe doors and then telling us they’d designed it.” – Tom

“Walking on board it smelled like a new car! Training was intense but informal and relaxed. The Airbus team really made us feel at home, and we had a very similar sense of humour.” – Roger

“The WiFi signal and strength was really good. The customers said it was as good as being in their office.” – Claire

“This aircraft brings flying up to date with modern touches and great spaces.” – David

“The aircraft is beautiful. I was so glad to be part of it.” – Hayley

“It was brilliant meeting all the Airbus project team. I can understand why they are so excited about it.” – Gemma

The view out the window of the ELF flight

The view out the window of the ELF flight

Right now, our customer experience and product teams are working flat out to design and develop the interiors of our A350s. We can’t wait to bring them into service and look forward to sharing more details in the coming months before welcoming you onboard in 2019.

Many thanks to the wonderful pilots on this flight:

  • Pilot in command: Peter Chandler, Airbus Senior Experimental Test Pilot
  • First Officer: Shaun Wildey, Airbus Experimental Test Pilot
  • Third pilot: Guillaume Kreis, Airbus Test Pilot

Both Peter and Sean used to work for Virgin Atlantic!

Here’s a video that Airbus made about the flight:

Fun facts

Rocky the Airbus test pilot mascot

Rocky the Airbus test pilot mascot

Meet Rocky, the mascot of the Airbus test pilots. He flies all around the world on Airbus test aircraft and was onboard our ELF flight. Follow Rocky on his Facebook page here

Toulouse is also known as the city of Violets and violet coloured and flavoured macaroons were served onboard the test flight. Find out more about the city’s association with this flower here 

You can see behind the scenes of our A350 launch announcement here

Welcome home

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About Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.
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