For airplane enthusiasts, there's nothing quite like a first flight.
And for fans of Airbus' A350 XWB, this meant that Friday morning provided one of the best treats of all.
With thousands on hand near thein Blagnac, France (just outside Toulouse), its next-generation A350 XWB took off on its this morning.
The A350 XWB is Airbus' response to three planes from archrival Boeing: the troubled but still popular 787 Dreamliner, as well as the 777 and 777-X. The new Airbus was designed to be one of the most fuel-efficient planes ever, thanks largely to the use of composite materials in 53 percent of the aircraft. The plane also was built with titanium and advanced aluminum alloys so that in excess of 70 percent of the plane's airframe was built with what Airbus calls "advanced materials."
The fuselage is built from carbon-fiber reinforced plastic composites, which gives the plane 25 percent better fuel efficiency. That's a major reason Airbus already has 613 preorders for the plane from carriers around the world. In addition, the composites mean that the A350 XWB should be easier to maintain and will better resist corrosion than traditional airplane bodies. Airbus touts the fact that the A350's wings, at 105 feet long by 19.7 feet wide, are the largest-ever single aviation parts made from lightweight carbon composites.
Plus, in a bid to avoid the kind of battery issues that have plagued Boeing's Dreamliner, Airbus is using nickel-cadmium batteries rather than lithium-ion.
Airbus expects to build three versions of the A350 XWB: the A350-900, which seats 314 passengers in a three-class layout and is powered by game-changing Trent XWB engines generating 84,000 pounds of thrust each; the A350-800 XWB, which could challenge Boeing's forthcoming 787-9 Dreamliner, and which has 270 seats in a three-class configuration; and the A350-1000 XWB, which has 350 seats in a three-class configuration, and uses the same engines as the A350-900. It can fly 8,400 nautical miles.
Airbus announced the A350 XWB program in 2006 and began construction on the plane in 2009.