I saw the A380 fly today. I watched from the deck of the Boeing chalet, standing...

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I saw the A380 fly today.

I watched from the deck of the Boeing chalet, standing beside Boeing chairman Lewis Platt. We both lingered, delaying our scheduled interview for five minutes so that we could watch the superjumbo jet complete its short flying display.

The big plane looks amazingly slow, even lumbering, as it moves down the runway for take-off. It didn’t seem to be going fast enough to leave the ground, especially since the runway used was exceptionally short. I thought for a moment something was wrong. Then suddenly it was in the air.

The huge wings must give enormous lift. The airplane banked sharply as soon as it was aloft and we saw at an angle the impressive wingspan and vast wing area.

In the air, as on the ground, it had a slow grace.

The plane made only a few passes over the airfield, never raising its landing gear. It did steep climbs, low passes, and tight turns — the kind of aerobatics Airbus likes to show off with at Air Shows. It’s not quite comparable to the maneuvers of the fighter jets, but remember, this is an enormous double-decker bus, not a Ferrari.

Platt and I had some conversation about the wing size and the apparent slowness with which the A380 moves.

But he offered no verdict, appearing deliberately laconic about the competition’s plane.

“It’s big,” he said.

At the Boeing press conference today, commercial airplane CEO Alan Mulally in his opening remarks congratulated Airbus on the A380. “It’s a terrific accomplishment to produce an airplane,” he said.

Airbus Chief executive Noel Forgeard was more expansive at his company’s main press conference today. “The A380 is really a magnificent plane,” he said.



POSTED June 13

First impressions of the A380: an imposing beast

PARIS — My first view of the A380, the new leviathan airliner from Airbus, took me completely by surprise.

Flying into Toulouse on an Air France flight from Paris last Thursday for a look at how Airbus makes its planes, I spotted a small jet sitting on the airfield below.

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I wondered why they had painted “A380” on the tail. Advertising?

Then I noticed the double-decker row of windows and the four engines, and realized with a start that it was an A380.

From high up, with no airplanes parked nearby to give a sense of scale, it simply didn’t look that different.

But up close, as I learned the next morning inspecting four almost-finished airplanes inside the A380 final assembly hall, it is different. It is a giant. And a beauty.

I stood above the great expanse of wing, which is slung low on the fuselage so that it’s the same height off the ground as the wing of any other Airbus jet.

I looked along the immense fuselage, which arrives in Toulouse in three sections and is bolted together there. The top half of the front and rear fuselages are made from a glass fiber-based composite material called GLARE. The rest is aluminum.

I climbed up to the doors, grateful for the chance to look flush along its lines.

I couldn’t see inside. But I’d already got an idea of that from the full-size mock-up that Airbus built so its customers could dream of lavish interiors.

The duty-free store in the entrance atrium. A mall in the sky with stuff I don’t want to buy.

The looped, ever-running waterfall along the helical staircase. Cool. Nice touch.

The bar upstairs. No seats, just wooden rails to rest against as you stand and sip. I guess it will comfortably hold at least 20 of the first-class passengers. Coach class? Form a line.

The mock-up marketing left me cold. But after Toulouse, I was eager to see the airplane fly at the Paris Air Show.

I wanted to hear if it’s as quiet as everyone says. I wanted to see the giant fly.

I saw it parked first. From ground level, it looks huge and impressive — but, I have to say, not inviting to travel in.I’ve had enough airplane travel in the past few days not to feel romantic about it. Does anyone feel romantic about scheduled air service anymore?

But from the upper deck of the air show’s Airbus chalet, there was a great view of the sweeping wings and the whole impressive beast. Though the superjumbo took off and landed twice today (June 13), I missed it both times. I saw it taxi across Le Bourget airfield, but then had to leave for a press conference.

I’ll catch an A380 fly-by before the week is out. While much of the talk at this air show is of future airplanes by Boeing and Airbus, there is no doubt this is a marvel of engineering.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com