Airbus A350 XWB in formation with Rafale fighter.

Owen Zupp - Friday, June 27, 2014
Airbus A350 XWB in formation with Rafale fighter.

A shot that I recently took of a Rafale fighter from an Airbus A350 XWB.

Check out '50 More Tales of Flight' HERE!

The Airbus A350 makes its First Flight. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, June 14, 2013

The Airbus A350 XWB on its Maiden Flight. (Wiki)

The A350 Makes its First Flight.

..but what are the higher stakes?

The Airbus A350 has now successfully conducted its maiden flight. Another milestone, another hurdle and another opportunity for costly delays has been overcome. It now takes a step closer to its battle on two fronts with Boeing. For Airbus is seeking to erode its competitor’s market-share at both 777 and 787 level. Like the ‘Dreamliner’, the A350 looks to maximise its efficiency through the use of composite materials. And while this first flight is no doubt a landmark, it is worth considering the battle that exists for all manufacturers in launching a new airliner on time and delivering all that has been promised.

As everyone is aware, the issues challenging the delivery schedule of the Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ continue to fill the pages of aviation journals around the world. Since its earliest days there were supply chain issues, composite material problems and even the delamination and the deformation of body join points during a routine preflight stress test. Now we have the issue of Lithium batteries over-heating and the subsequent remedy to get the aircraft flying once again. These delays pushed timetables out the back door with the associated costs spiralling; more a bad dream than a ‘Dreamliner’ it seemed. Yet Boeing is not alone in this sea of woes. Aircraft development has a long history of difficult births and failed types. Perhaps Howard Hughes’ ‘Spruce Goose’ is an extreme example, but many of the issues that hobbled the Hughes H-4 Hercules are still being revisited today including materials, cost, and deadlines.

The Hughes H-4 Hercules or "Spruce Goose". (Source: Wiki)

Just as Hughes was looking to break boundaries and be revolutionary in what his aircraft could achieve, the big players of Airbus and Boeing decided to step outside the square in their recent forays. In the battle of philosophies prior to the A350, Airbus went for size with the double-deck A380, while Boeing went down the path of composites in pursuit of savings and efficiency with the 787. Today, the A380 is now routinely cruising the airways; however it was not without significant developmental problems. Commencing with wiring issues, the A380 delivery schedule was also pushed back through a series of major announcements which saw their parent company (EADS) share price dive and the departure of a number of senior executives. Even following its delivery there were issues with the Rolls Royce engines and then the emergence of small cracks within its wings.

This is VERY big business and the stakes are enormously high. Even to giants of industry like Airbus and Boeing, the costs are astronomic and for that reason various components and contracts are outsourced to share the pain. The days of a production line starting with a bare frame and punching out a completed Flying Fortress at the far end of the building are gone. This is a matter of international logistics and project management and all the communication and co-ordination problems that inevitably come with it.

History has shown that a successful type can enjoy an extremely long life. The Douglas DC-3 was an ageless design and in the modern era the Boeing 737 has been in production for over forty years, with each new model squeezing just a little more from the old core design. The Lockheed C130 Hercules has evolved through new engines, propellers and avionics amongst other things, but is still providing a critical niche in both military and civilian service. These types have been built upon for decades whereas the A380, A350 and 787 have sought to be revolutionary.

Revolutions may well serve the greater good, but when they go wrong someone can end up losing their head. The United Kingdom had the first commercial jet airliner to reach production in the form of the de Havilland Comet. With the total loss of two aircraft and all on board, the Comet was grounded until the origin of the problem could be found. Simply put, the pressurisation cycles of the aircraft caused the corners of the square cabin windows to fail and catastrophically depressurise the aeroplane. Once the fault was discovered, the aircraft was fitted with the standard rounded windows we have today and the problem was seemingly overcome. However, in the midst of this both Boeing and Douglas took the advantage with the 707 and DC-8 respectively and Britain was relegated from world leader, destined never to regain the mantle.

The DH-106 Comet (Wiki)

To date, supersonic travel has been another costly frontier. Aerospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) formed a consortium to share the developmental burden of the Concorde. Undoubtedly a beautiful aeroplane, for one reason and another, it never returned assumed any dominance in the marketplace and limped graciously through its majestic career until the crash of Air France Flight 4590, at Gonesse, France spelt the beginning of the end. By comparison, the Boeing 2707 Supersonic Transport (SST) became a costly venture and was ultimately retired before a prototype ever flew.

Both Boeing and Airbus have stepped away from their safety net in the development of these latter types. They could have opted for continuing to revamp and rejig members of their existing family, but the world cried out for more. Both companies responded to the call with the hope of landing a dominant blow upon the other, but both have suffered a series of painful jabs. Who will ultimately win the fight may come down to simply who can best deliver as opposed to a battle of philosophies. The sliding timetables were initially and fortunately offset by the global downturn. In a period where most airlines were shelving capacity, a line of new aeroplanes on the doorstep could have presented a whole new series of problems. This was luck, not planning and the wheel is now starting to turn.

The Boeing 787.

For the sake of the industry, success by both Airbus and Boeing would be the best outcome. It would not only guard against a monopoly, but it would leave two long term players continuing to push the other to new boundaries with the likes of Embraer knocking on the door. Governments will always push the development of military aerospace and much of this technology will flow on to the civil ranks, but for conceptual change in the airline industry, the marketplace must speak. And their voice is best heard by more than one company.

Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose remains preserved and on display in Oregan, USA. It sought to achieve new heights but eventually barely lifted out of ground effect. Today Airbus and Boeing confront their own challenges as they endeavour to mold the next phase of airline travel in their projected image. It will be costly and there will be pain along the way, but for the future of airline travel, failure is not an option.


Airbus A380. Over the Fence. An Aviation Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, November 23, 2012



Airbus A380. "Over the Fence"


"Rotate." An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, March 11, 2012





"Late in the Day." An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, February 24, 2012



"Late in the Day"

"Traffic Ahead." An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Monday, February 20, 2012


    A contrail at dusk as the traffic ahead turns the corner, bound for home.

The Collapse of 'Air Australia'. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, February 17, 2012


The day was not so old today when the news of another airline's collapse filtered down the wire. There had been rumours circulating over recent days, but nothing untoward in an industry that is traditionally underpinned by third hand speculation. Even so, when the news was confirmed it was still a shock to the system, particularly for those caught in the cross-fire. Personally, it took me back ten years to when my old employer, Ansett Australia, ceased operations in the wee hours.

On that occasion I was left standing outside the terminal with the passengers as the automatic doors refused to budge despite limitless arm-waving at the sensor. Eventually I gained access under the watchful eye of a security guard, emptied my letterbox and was shown the door. All before 6am. It's a surreal experience to be standing on the footpath, in uniform and unemployed. The thoughts racing through the mind are difficult to harness; action needs to be taken, but what's to be done? Where to from here? Abandonment, vulnerability, confusion and grief all show their faces as the rational half of the brain endeavours to create a strategy to move forward from this mess.

As the announcement of Air Australia's collapse filled the air waves, that day on the footpath did not seem to be a decade ago. The corporate impact hardly registered with me as I felt immediate empathy for the staff. A number of the pilots at Air Australia were my workmates at Ansett, so the blow they have taken must be a bitter case of 'deja vu'. Once again they are asking, “Where to from here?”

For so many, aviation is more than just a job; it's a passion. As such, the loss of employment can be a twisted blend of fiscal uncertainty and a slap in the face by a cold-hearted lover. And similarly, both may take years to fully 'get over'.

If there is any solace, it may lie in the fact that many have been down this road before and have managed to regroup and rebuild. Resilience is so often a by-product of disappointment. It may be cold comfort in these first days when any sense of perspective is difficult to come by, but rest assured that the thoughts and good wishes of many are with you.

To the staff of Air Australia, stay strong and treasure those who really matter the most as they are the ones who will get you through.

Take care one and all.

The Five Most Popular Aviation Blogs. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, February 05, 2012


Hi All,

As the numbers continue to soar on this blog and a new group of readers join us, I thought it would be worthwhile to re-visit five of the most popular aviation blogs thus far. Here they are.

1. Golden Days.

2. So You Want to be a Pilot?

3. The Fatal Stall.

4. A Glimpse of the 'Red Tails'.

5. The Big Bang Theory.......of aircraft engines.

For those of you new to this aviation blog, welcome aboard! And for those that are continuing to come back, thanks for your support and please enjoy the growing list of original content.



Fuelling the Future. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, January 12, 2012

When oil wreaked devastation in the Gulf of Mexico, news reports continued to splash images of doused wildlife and shattered livelihoods across our screens. Inevitably, our world's dependence upon the black fluid was raised and environmentally friendlier options were bounced about by the media and governments alike. The sustainability of the world's reliance on oil was subsequently called into question for reasons ranging from its environmental impact to its ultimately finite supplies.

Aviation stands in the middle of this intersection with both arguments bearing down at a pace seemingly far greater than solutions can be found. However, the industry is far from a bystander as manufacturers seek answers to the inevitable issues relating to the blood supply of aviation. In the short to medium term making every drop count is crucial, while in the longer term an alternative fuel source is the real Nirvana.

Airlines continue to eke out efficiency at every opportunity, from reducing APU burns on turn-around to tailored flight planning at the optimum flight level and on the optimum route. But beyond this, boundaries are being pushed and ideas from outside the square are rapidly entering the realms of feasibility. Ideas such as the 'Scramjet', where the act of jet combustion takes place utilising supersonic airflow throughout the engine. Normally this airflow needs to be decelerated to subsonic speeds and consequently limits the speed of the aircraft it is powering. The Boeing X-51A Wave Rider scramjet has already set a new record for sustained flight at Mach 5. While the maximum speed was only held for a matter of minutes, the flight represents a major stepping stone towards an engine that could potentially see flight at speeds approaching orbital velocity.

At the other end of the speed spectrum and down in the more immediate atmosphere, solar power also notched up a landmark in the wake of the scramjet tearing up the sky. Flying out of Switzerland, the manned 'Solar Impulse' aircraft remained aloft for 26 hours, powered by its 12,000 solar cells and the batteries those cells had charged. The most obvious aspect of a flight lasting longer than a day is that this 'sun-powered' flight, flew by night! Another step forward for a project with its sights set on a flight around the globe, energised by nature alone.

Beyond conceptual craft, the airlines are faced with the immediate problems of rising oil prices and a role to play in terms of environmental responsibility. Airlines across the world from Air New Zealand to Virgin Atlantic have pioneered tests with biofuel blended fuel on wide-bodied Boeing 747s in the search for a new, friendlier fuel source. Additionally, manufacturers are seeking lighter, more fuel efficient engines, such as the CFM LEAP-X and Pratt & Whitney's 1000G, to attach to existing airframe designs to increase the fuel efficiency of conventional jet transport aeroplanes.

Taking the project even further, Airbus have released their New Engine Option (NEO) program and this involves more than merely bolting on new engines to an A320 airframe. Open rotor engines that remind us of the unducted fans of the 80s and ultra-high bypass engines are set to not merely change the powerplant, but the overall look of the aircraft.

And it is not only the 'big boys' pursuing these options. The diesel engine is knocking on the door to re-emerge as a general aviation engine and halve fuel flows in the process. Diamond Aircraft continue to go down the diesel road that they started with their Thielert engined aircraft. After teething problems, they are now back on track with the Austro AE300 engine on their new twin-engined DA42NG.

In fact at one Berlin Airshow, EADS demonstrated a DA42 with Austro engines modified to use an algae-based biofuel. At the same airshow, EADS took the diesel journey a step further down a slightly different road. At the recent Berlin Airshow they also unveiled a hybrid diesel-electric helicopter concept; low on both fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

All of these developments are looking at how aviation can either maximise its use of existing fuel sources or successfully replace them with green alternatives. Certainly, the conversion of a featherweight solar-powered aircraft into a commercially viable machine is still a way off, but the rate of progress is truly accelerating. In fact, virtually of all of the aforementioned projects have registered major milestones in recent times.

They are long term projects conceived in times past that are not only progressing at a tremendous rate, but are spawning new projects and further stretching the boundaries of human imagination. It is this same 'reach for the sky' attitude that has preceded all the great periods of aviation evolution. The first powered flights saw pioneering individuals push one another to develop better flying contraptions while enemies sought to fly higher, farther and faster in times of war to gain air superiority. Today, manufacturers are involved in a battle of a different kind and whilst not violent, the challenge is no less fierce.

At stake is the future of man's presence in the sky. To remain aloft, a more efficient way must be found to move people and parcels across the oceans. Oil resources are not without limit and the greater community is calling for all commercial operations to be responsible for the environment we share. To this end, the aviation industry faces its next big challenge and on recent developments, it looks like it will once again find the answers.

Whether global travel involves skipping along the atmosphere at Mach 24 or crossing oceans by virtue of igniting algae, only time will tell. However, it is undeniable that aviation is continuing to set its sights on the future while endeavouring to improve the methods on hand in the interim. It is an industry in the cross-hairs of inevitability, but is also an industry founded upon the purest principles of innovation and imagination. One cannot help but think that it is these very qualities that will ultimately find a means of fuelling the future.

Outside the Square. The future of aviation? An Aviation Blog By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, December 15, 2011

By the year 2050, the world’s population will have grown from 7 billion people to 9 billion. In terms of the aerospace industry, this represents a potentially huge growth in passenger numbers for a world that is becoming increasingly lower on fuel reserves, more unable to accommodate sprawling airports and ever-vigilant of the environmental impact of industry. What is equally alarming is that 2050 is closer to 2011 than man’s first steps on the moon. With this in mind and with a keen eye for the marketplace, Airbus has just released their vision for air transport midway through this century. And it’s eye-catching to say the least.

Armed with global survey figures that showed that passengers are seeking a ‘greener’ in-flight experience that allows greater access to the new digital world, they set about imagining their aircraft of the future. An aircraft that not only boasts enhanced efficiency, but an aircraft that makes the flight an ‘experience’ in its own right, rather than a mode of travel that merely provides a means to an end.

Firstly, they addressed the overwhelming issue of future energy sources. Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of man-made CO2 emissions of which 80% is generated on flights of over 1,500km. With a goal of halving aviation’s CO2 output by 2050, Airbus envisages the increasing use of ‘biofuels’, such that they will make up 30% of jet fuels by 2030. By utilising algae, woodchip and general waste, new energy sources are being pursued, while utilising salt water plants may offer a feasible option to the use of great land masses. However, there are other means by which energy may be saved. The ‘Fuel Cell’ combines Hydrogen with Oxygen through cold combustion to generate electricity, resulting in water, heat and oxygen depleted air as the only by-products. While this may not be a means to generate engine power, it can serve to provide the energy for engine starting, cabin lighting, air-conditioning, and the waste water can be recycled for use on board. The use of solar power is also being researched as a means of providing power to ancillary services. Another futuristic concept is ‘energy harvesting’, by which body heat is ‘harvested’ from the passenger seats and used to power such systems as cabin lighting.

Improving the efficiency of aircraft and their engines, as well as more productive use of the airspace, all offer potential contributions to a cleaner atmosphere. It has been said that reducing each flight time by one minute would shave off 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 released into the air by aviation. It is in everyone’s interest to seek out initiatives that result in quicker flights, shorter routes and consequently less fuel burn. Airbus looks to mimic nature to find some of these solutions through ‘ecological’ design. We have already seen aircraft winglets that resemble the upturned tips of a bird’s span result in increased efficiency of the wing, but Airbus sees the idea going further. Like the new generation of competitive swim-suits, perhaps the features of the shark’s skin can enhance the surface of future aeroplanes. The owls serrated feathers may offer a means to noise reduction and the stiffening and relaxing of the membranes in a butterfly’s wings may create a whole new idea of what wing design entails.

Bionic structures may copy the skeletal frame of the bird in place of the existing metal framework of ribs, spars and longerons. Lighter in weight and more sparsely distributed, the futuristic fuselage frame facilitates not only larger windows, but the potential for 360 degree views. For Airbus have even suggested that the new skin of aeroplanes be transparent; made from a biopolymer membrane. The world above and below could be viewed and enjoyed in all their unobstructed majesty, making the journey as exciting as the destination. One school of thought is that fares could even be free, funded by on-board casinos. Enhancing the flight experience is central to the theme for Airbus and they perceive that the cruise liners of tomorrow will be found in the skies rather than on the seas. Offering pools, spas and even golf ranges, these soaring entertainment centres will have passengers not wanting to disembark.

On the topic of disembarking, the face of joining and leaving an aeroplane may well change in the future. Crowded airports may be replaced by time-efficient boarding platforms that allow a mass transfer of passengers in the same manner afforded by the rail systems of today.  Even more modular is the concept of ‘boarding pods’. In much the same way that freight in aircraft’s holds has become ‘containerised’, passengers will be pre-loaded into pods that are ready to attach to the aeroplane as soon as the pod of passengers leaving the flight have been transferred.

For all the eye-catching changes, the grass roots engineering concepts Airbus foresees are equally bold. To this end they have conceived a ‘Concept Aeroplane’ that showcases the many features, while recognising that they may well not feature on a lone design. In addition to a see-through skin, there are engines that are smoothly blended and almost concealed into the aircraft’s form.  Traditional tailplanes are replaced by a sweeping V-Tail, like a pair of blended winglets at the aeroplane’s rear. There will be ultra-long, slim wings that are designed to maximise lift and minimise induced drag, unencumbered by under-slung engines and composite materials used throughout the airframe to slash the aeroplanes weight and permit flexibility in the design shape. Within the cabin, new materials will permit the seats to ‘morph’ their shape, harvest energy and even clean themselves.

As Airbus sees it, the look, feel and function of tomorrow’s aeroplanes will be vastly different to the airliners of today. This world of dreams, concepts and ongoing change is nothing new and has in fact characterised aviation since man first took flight. As we browse the internet and contact the world through our iPhones, it is little wonder that Airbus’s brave new world of air travel is held in tangible wonder for aviation has proven time and again that virtually anything is possible. And if these concepts are being broadcast freely around the world, it makes one wonder about the even more fantastic, but  commercially sensitive, ideas that are being developed by designers around the world. Without doubt, for aviation to forge new frontiers, the answers cannot lie in the solutions of the past, they must continue to come from outside the square.


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