Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Logging Time In The World’s Largest Airliner


Left seat in an Airbus 380


finfFor the next few minutes, I struggle with the fly-by-wire system. At first, I handle the controls like the stick in my Extra 300 and chase the attitude all over the place. Then I remember to just let go, and, as if by wizardry, the airplane holds any attitude I desire. Once I get the hang of it, it’s easy! Marc shows me how to set the airspeed with the auto throttles, and soon, I’m keeping the FD cursor centered through course changes as I intercept the ILS for my first VFR landing. I manage to get everything lined up as I approach the runway. Unconsciously, I fixate on the FD—not paying much attention to airspeed, altitude or anything else, and before I know it, Marc suddenly yells, “Flare, flare, get your nose up…up, up!” Yikes! I react by pulling the stick all the way back: The million pounds under my seat slowly pitches up as we make a fairly gentle touchdown. The far end of the runway appears to be closing fast, so I push hard on the brakes and stop with plenty of runway remaining. Marc smiles kindly as he explains that I’ve overheated the brakes terribly. But, overall, he says that the landing wasn’t too bad. I’m flattered but not fooled.

After the second takeoff, we leave the wheels down to cool the brakes. Marc monitors the temperatures and raises the gear when everything is safely cooled. He then gives me an ILS approach to minimums in IMC; it works out better than the first landing. Finally, Marc clears the weather and sets me up for a visual approach. With nothing visible out the window to use for attitude reference, the visual approach is challenging. I come in a little high and float about half of the runway but manage a nice touchdown, stopping just before the end for a slow exit at the last taxiway. The feel and sound of the landing in the Level-D simulator is absolutely real. I’m just starting to get the feel of it, but my hour at the controls is over. By now, I’m happy to relax a bit and I leave the simulator with a handshake from Marc and a grin on my face.

Would I be able to take over in an emergency and bring a fully loaded A380 safely back for a landing on my own? The honest answer is “probably not,” though perhaps I could do it with a few more hours of practice…



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