Airbus Celebrates 50th Anniversary of First A300 Flight
Airbus celebrated the 50th anniversary of the flight of the Airbus A300 on Friday, which took off from Toulouse on October 28, 1972. The A300B1 development aircraft, MSN 1, registration F-WUAB, was the world’s first twin-engine widebody commercial aircraft.
On Friday, October 28, 2022, Airbus celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first Airbus A300 flight which took off from Toulouse on October 28, 2022. The A300B1 development aircraft, MSN 1, registration F-WUAB, was the world’s first twin-engine widebody commercial aircraft. The test flight crew included Captain Max Fischl, First Officer Bernard Ziegler, Flight test engineers Pierre Caneil and Gunter Scherer, as well as Romeo Zinzoni as Test Flight Engineer and Mechanic on the cockpit. After a one day delay due to weather, the flight took off on Saturday, October 28, 1972. During the 1 hour and 25 minute flight, the aircraft reached a maximum speed of 185 knots (213 mph) and an altitude of 14,000 feet. The autopilot was engaged, control surfaces were tested and the landing gear retraction and deployment were all evaluated as part of the first flight. When the aircraft returned to Blagnac Airport, strong wind gusts, known as the famous Toulouse ‘Vent d’Autan’, required a controlled crosswind landing, which was expertly executed by Captain Max Fischl.
Various studies for a new 250-seat short to medium-haul aircraft were being considered by various European manufacturers during the mid-1960s. Hawker Siddeley, Breguet and Nord Aviation were considering the HBN 100, while alternative designs for the Galion, a similar sized airplane, was being considered by Sud Aviation. A dedicated ‘air bus’ study group had also been established by Germany’s MBB and VFW, later collectively known as Deutsche Airbus. At that time European airframers only held around 10 percent of the global market share, with the remaining 90 percent held by the three main American manufacturers, Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Lockheed. With the robust competition from the Americans, it was determined that only an aircraft born of a transnational collaboration would successfully challenge American leadership, while reducing development costs for each of the partners.
By 1966, a joint European project had been established, with Sud Aviation representing France, Deutsche Airbus representing Germany and Hawker Siddeley representing the United Kingdom. Development of the engine was initially entrusted to Rolls-Royce, who was developing the RB207 for the new aircraft. With a framework agreement reached by the partner countries in July 1967, detailed design work started in earnest, with the project evolving from a 270 seat to 300 seat aircraft, hence the A300 name. The UK government withdrew from the program in 1969 due to uncertain commercial prospects, and because Rolls-Royce decided to focus development efforts on the less powerful RB211 engine for the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. As a result, the already proven General Electric CF6-50A was selected as the engine for the A300.
While British European Airways (BEA) and Rolls-Royce initially favored a 300-seat aircraft, at launce, the A300s capacity had been reduced to 225 passengers at the request of Air France and Lufthansa, two potential customers who did not require the larger 300-seat aircraft. This resulted in a fuselage cross-section change reducing the abreast seating from nine to eight with two main aisles, and also the ability to carry two standard LD3 containers side-by-side in the belly hold. To accomplish the optimum fuselage cross-section, the floor of the cabin was raised slightly, and the aircraft was then designated A300B to reflect the changes. France and Germany officially co-launched the A300B program at the 1969 Le Bourget Airshow, with the signature ceremony taking place in a forward fuselage mockup between French Transport Minister Jean Chamant and German Economics Minister Karl Schiller.
In December 18, 1970, Airbus Industrie was formally established with SNIAS, the merged Nord and Sud Aviation companies (later Aérospatiale) becoming the French shareholder, and Deutsche Airbus, the legal entity representing MBB VFW and Hamburger Flugzeugbau (HFB) becoming the German shareholder with a 50/50 stake. In October 1971, CASA of Spain acquired a 4.2 percent stake in the company with Aérospatiale and Deutsche Airbus each reducing their stakes proportionately. The British Hawker Siddeley company remained onboard as a private partner to supply the A300’s wings, which had already been substantially developed by the time the program launched. In 1977, Hawker Siddeley merged with British Aircraft Corporation to form British Aerospace, which later acquired a 20 percent stake in the Airbus consortium, reducing the original partners’ shares to 37.9 percent each.
Production of the first Airbus A300B1 started in September 1969, and the aircraft was completed and rolled out on September 28, 1972, one month before the first test flight. Subsequently, two additional test aircraft were to be produced, with MSN 2 the second and last A300B1 to be built. The last test aircraft, MSN 3, was developed as the first A300B2, a A300B1 stretched 2.6 meters at the request of Air France to accommodate 251 passengers in a two class configuration. This aircraft remained the standard for all subsequent A300B2 and A300B4 models, with the B4 offering increased range, allowing it to enter the medium-haul market. Type certification was achieved on March 11, 1974, less than 18 months after the maiden test flight.
Numerous variants were designed, tested and built over the program's 35 year history, including the A300B10, launched as the Airbus A310 in 1978, and first taking flight in April 1982. The A310 was a shorter reduced capacity medium-haul version of the A300, which featured an entirely new wing. An extended version of the A300B4, the A300-600, was also introduced with a redesigned rear fuselage carried over from the A310, allowing two additional seat rows an added cargo capacity. The A300-600 first took flight in 1983, and a freighter version, the A300-600F entered service in 1993. Other projects, A300B9 and A300B11, would eventually become the foundation for the future A330 and A340 aircraft Families. Additionally, five Airbus A300-600ST Belugas were built to meet Airbus’ oversized transport capacity needs, replacing the company’s aging Aero Spacelines Super Guppy fleet. Ultimately, a total of 821 A300 Family aircraft of all variants and configurations were built.
Currently, over 250 Airbus A300 and A310s are in operation with 37 operators, 75 percent of which are freighters, making it the third most operated freighter type worldwide. The four main customers, which operate 60 percent of the fleet, plan on operating their A300/310 fleets until at least 2030.