Monday, June 6, 2016

Airplane 101

Have you read the book or seen the movie A Bridge Too Far?  It's a true story about Operation Market Garden, the WWII push to capture the bridge across the Rhine river at Arnhem which, if successful, would have hastend the Allied march into Germany and final victory.  It got its title from a quote by British Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning who at the time told Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, "I think we might be going a bridge too far."  He was right, and the operation failed.

Fast forward about 50 years and I think someone should have told the powers-that-be at the European airplane consortium Airbus that their proposed gargantuan A-380 might turn out to be A Plane Too Big.  (I saw a prototype fly back in '06, and it was almost gravity defying!)  If they had it looks like they would have been right as I saw in the news today the A-380 program is about to die a quiet death.

Airbus original business plan was to have the countries that built major parts of their planes...France, Germany, the UK, and Spain..."loan" them the R&D cash to get off the ground.  *sorry*  It worked well for them with the A-300, A-310, A-320, A-330, and A-340, so they doubled down with the giant A-380.  That looks like it will be a 25-30 BILLION dollar Oops!

The A-380 was to be a plane that would fly from gateway city to gateway city.  Only major air hubs could handle it, what with all the airport and terminal modifications that would be needed to accommodate its huge girth.  From the gateway airports, passengers would then board smaller planes to get them on to their final destination.

Eight years after it first entered service with Singapore Airlines, it is reported Airbus will wrap up A-380 production within two years, with those final planes losing Airbus TENS OF MILLIONS of dollars each! 

Boeing on the other hand felt the flying public would rather fly a bit smaller airplane directly to their final destination city, bypassing the connecting flight.  That's what they designed their revolutionary 787 to do.  

They've had a longer than anticipated gestation period with their Do-Or-Die composite (vs aluminum) Big Bird.  Several dissatisfied early airline customers even demanded their money back.  (I think this just validates the old adage that you shouldn't buy the first of a new model of anything.) 

It looks like they're finally getting the kinks worked out, but it has been a giant pain in Boeing's posterior to date.  I think if they were to write a book about the 787 it might should be titled A Plane Too Different.

So if the A-380 is a dud, and the 787 a meh (so far), what's the next big plane?  *sorry again* Based on the number of customers who are jumping off the A-380 bandwagon, it looks like it just might be the old tried-and-true Boeing 777, specifically the updated, re-engined, streeeeeched 777 9X.  (It looks like it straddles several zip codes!) 

Here is an early test model sans paint.  It will fly as far as an A-380, carry 80% as many passengers, and even more cargo in its belly, all on just two fuel-sipping engines.  I'm thinking it should be called the Not Too Big, Not Too Small, Not Too Odd, But Juuust Right plane.  (Goldilocks for short?)

Ironically it's the relatively tiny Boeing 737 and Airbus A-320 models that keep their respective companies in the black....they can't build them fast enough!   

The meek shall inherit the earth.  Ha! 

OK, I had to get my airplane geek out.  You can go back to your nap now.  :)



  1. Thanks for the education, I did not know about the A-380 problems or that a 9X had flown. Seat size and crying baby location are about all I think about airline planes.

  2. I just wish the price of airfares woud go down. The price of oil has dropped, and with it the price of fuel, but the airlines continue to rase prices and nickel and dime us to death.

  3. I flew in one in November, Heathrow to LAX. We were on the upper deck (second floor?) forward, so very little engine noise. It did seem to take forever to get off the ground in England, but once airborn seemed like any other plane. Business class layout is a little odd, with isle seats opposing each other rather than side by side.

    1. I'm not aware of any major passenger complaints about the A-380. It must just be the cost of operation, maintenance, etc that has made it a slow seller. Surely 4 engines cost more to purchase initially and of course use more fuel...just to fly 20% more passengers?? And that's if they can fill it up. Wonder what the operational break even point is?

  4. I wasn't aware of any issues with the A-380. Seems like someone should get fired over this idea, but he'll probably get an $18 Million severance check.

    This reminds me of the story I read about cruise ships getting bigger and bigger...and harbors have to dig deeper to be able to accommodate them. *Shakes head*

  5. I remember flying to Washington, D.C. from North Dakota once back in the 1960's. It was a political junket so a National Guard plane was used. I think it was a C-47. We had to stop for refueling somewhere in Wisconsin and it seems to me the trip took about 12 hours!