Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Logging Time In The World’s Largest Airliner
Left seat in an Airbus 380
Cleared for taxi to runway 32L, I reach for the steering tiller and push the power levers up a bit. We begin to creep forward, and as the taxiway veers to the right, I gently move the tiller to follow. But…nothing happens, so I keep turning the tiller until I run out of range, and then, all of sudden, we’re turning like crazy with the cockpit swinging sideways in the turn. I slam on the brakes, recenter the tiller and try again. In spite of my best efforts, we lurch along a crooked path to the end of the runway. The passengers must be wondering who’s driving this thing."
At that point, Captain Marc Munier, my Airbus instructor, pops his head out from the back of the simulator and breaks the spell. The Level-D A380 simulator is so realistic that it’s easy to forget we’re not in the real thing. I’m politely reminded to expect the fly-by-wire system to be a “little different” and that I should put the airplane where I want it and just let go; otherwise, “you will oscillate.”
Lined up on the runway and cleared for takeoff, I grip the side stick and, with Captain Marc’s help, push the four big throttles up to the takeoff detent. Acceleration is brisk, but with the cockpit so high off the ground, the sensation of speed is missing. At rotation speed, I pull the nose up to the takeoff attitude, and this huge machine becomes an airplane. I’m mesmerized and quickly realize that I can’t decipher everything on the PFD. The cross-and-rectangle flight director (FD) isn’t the familiar mustache/triangle display I’m used to. Getting the gear retracted, the slats stowed and the flaps up is challenging. Things are happening fast, so Marc calmly pitches in to help when I get lost (which seems quite often).
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