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Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates covers top industry events to bring you the latest news, highlighting how it impacts Boeing and its competitors.

July 16, 2014 at 5:53 AM

Farnborough Air Show bans thrilling maneuver as Airbus and Boeing jets aim to impress

787-9 climbs sharply during fly-by on Monday July 14 at Farnborough Air Show. SIMON DAWSON / BLOOMBERG

Boeing 787-9 climbs sharply during fly-by on Monday July 14 at Farnborough Air Show. SIMON DAWSON / BLOOMBERG

On the opening day of the Farnborough Air Show, the Boeing 787-9 did a spectacular touch-and-go in the afternoon flying display, coming down and touching the tarmac as if to land, then powering up and climbing steeply away.

A350 test plane No. 4, Wednesday at Farnborough

A350 test plane No. 4, Wednesday at Farnborough

On the second day, the Air Show authorities banned that maneuver.

“They got red-carded,” said Airbus test pilot Frank Chapman, speaking on a tour of his A350 flight test jet on Wednesday.

He said the airport authority won’t allow either Airbus or Boeing to do it again this week.

“We can all climb steeply,” said Chapman. “What you mustn’t do is turn straight away (on take-off). If the wing hits the ground, it’s over. Their wingtip was 15 feet off the ground. They don’t like you being close to the ground.”

Tuesday, the Boeing communications team here had a decidedly conspiratorial explanation: That Airbus had whispered to the Air Show authorities and spiked such displays so as not to be shown up.

Not so, according to Chapman. “We can do the same,” he said.

(See Monday’s 787-9 flying display on YouTube. The touch-and-go starts at 1:10)

Frank Chapman, Airbus A350 test pilot, in front of the flight engineer displays inside test plane No. 4

Frank Chapman, Airbus A350 test pilot, in front of the flight engineer displays inside test plane No. 4

In fact, in practice for the Air Show two weeks ago in Chateauroux, north of Toulouse, Chapman said the test pilots practiced just such touch-and-go maneuvers.

He’s disappointed Boeing was allowed to do so at Farnborough that one time and not Airbus.

Chapman, 55, is British, a former Royal Air Force test pilot who also spent four years on an exchange with the U.S. Air Force at Eglin Air Force base in Florida.

There he flew the F-16 jet fighter, doing mostly weapons testing. “One of the best four year periods of my career,” Chapman said. “The U.S. pilots treated me very much as a guest. It was a fantastic experience.”

The test pilot fraternity is close. He said his team hosted the Boeing test pilots late Tuesday at the Airbus chalet.

Chapman is now nearing the end of the A350 flight test program. Five test planes have in the past year racked up more than 520 flights and 2,200 flight hours.

The exciting tests such as the in-flight stalls and the rejected take-off test are complete. All that remains are tests to demonstrate the operational reliability of the airplane.

In a couple of weeks, Airbus will start ETOPS testing, flying on one engine for four or five hours on southern polar routes.

It’s been fairly smooth for the Airbus test pilots, Chapman said, unlike Boeing’s experience with the 787, which suffered a dangerous fire on board a test flight in 2010.

“The 787 was a big technological jump for Boeing. It was almost inevitable they’d have problems,” said Chapman. “It wasn’t that big a step change for us.”

He said the A350 is a development from the A380 program, with many similar systems and a similar flight control architecture.

In the flying displays, the 787-9 certainly wins in one respect: aesthetics. Its carbon fiber composite wings  flex dramatically in flight into a graceful curve . The A350’s wings, though made from similar material, are much stiffer and look like typical airplane wings in flight.

“It depends how the carbon fiber is laid up as to how stiff it is. Some structures are more flexible than others,” said Chapman. “The A350 wing has been designed to be slightly stiffer. It’s not better or worse.”

At the European Air Shows, U.S. executives tend to be a bit stiff and guarded in their presentations, in contrast to the loose and flashy Airbus guys. But when it comes to wing stiffness, Boeing’s graceful flexibility wins this Air Show beauty contest.

Comments | Topics: 787, A350, Airbus

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