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The Airbus A300 is a short to medium range, wide-body family of aircraft manufactured by Airbus between 1972 and the present. Its first flight was commemorated on a French Three Euro stamp.

Arpingstone

Lufthansa Airbus A300

Introduction

The A300 was the first twin-engined widebody airliner in the world, and paved the way for ETOPS flights.

Development history

The early history of A300 is inseparable to that of its parent, Airbus Industrie. The basic mission requirements were given by Frank Kolk, an American Airlines executive, in 1966, for a Boeing 727 replacement on busy short to medium range routes such as US transcontinental flights. His brief includes passenger capacity of 250 to 300 seated in a twin-aisle configuration and fitted with two engines with the capability of carrying full passengers without penalty from high altitude airports like Denver.

The American manufacturers responded with wide body trijets, the Douglas DC-10 and the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar as twin-engines are restricted from many routes by the FAA. The then French president, Charles de Gaulle, resented the US domination of civil aviation and wanted a European airliner that could compete with American designs. Concorde was part of the answer, designed for intercontinental routes. The other is the A300, designed to meet Mr Kolk's US domestic requirements. For the A300, the consortium of European aerospace firms, each backed by their respective governments, pooled together their expertise under the banner of Airbus Industrie.

Both the Concorde and A300 are developed by the same group of engineers and key people. To attract potential US customers, American engines, the General Electric CF6-50 powers the A300 in preference to the British Rolls-Royce RB207. The British government was upset and withdrew from the venture. However the British firm Hawker Siddeley (years later in the form of its successor, the British Aerospace, UK re-entered the consortium) stayed on as a contractor, developing the wings for the A300 which were pivotal for its impressive performance from short domestic to long intercontinental flight (in later versions).

The A300 is the first airliner to use just-in-time manufacturing techniques. Whole complete sections were manufactured by consortium partners all over Europe. These were airlifted to the final assembly line in Toulouse by a fleet of Boeing 377-derived Aero Spacelines Super Guppy, where the complete airliner is assembled. Originally devised as a way to share the work among Airbus's partners without the expense of two assembly lines, it turned out to be a more efficient way of building airplanes (more flexible and reduced costs) as opposed to building the whole airplane onsite previously. This fact is not lost to Boeing which decided to manufacture the Boeing 787 in this manner (complete with outsized 747 to ferry wings and other parts from Japan).

On the whole, the A300 cemented the Europeans cooperations in aviation which later expanded to many other fields leading to the formation of the EU.

Technology

Airbus partners employed the latest technology, some derived from the Concorde. On entry into service, in 1974, the A300, was very advanced and influenced later subsonic airliner designs. The technological highlights include:

  • Advanced wings by De Havilland (later BAE Systems) with:
    • supercritical airfoil section for excellent economical performance
    • advanced aerodynamically efficient flight controls
  • Advanced 222-inch diameter circular fuselage section for 8-abreast passenger seating and wide enough for 2 LD3 cargo containers side-by-side giving it bigger belly cargo cross-section than a Boeing 747. The circular fuselage cross section was later used in Boeing 777.
  • Structures made from metal billets, reducing weight
  • High degree of automation, requiring the flight engineer's intervention only in emergency
  • The first airliner to be fitted with wind shear protection
  • Advanced autopilots capable of flying the aircraft from climb-out to landing
  • Fully electronically controlled brake-by-wire braking system

Later A300s incorporate other advanced features such as

  • 2-man crew by automating the flight engineer's functions, an industry first (a request made by Garuda Indonesia, an idea proposed by B. J. Habibie, who at that time was Indonesia's Minister of Research and Technology)
  • Glass cockpit flight instruments
  • Extensive use of composites
  • Centre-of-gravity control by shifting around fuel
  • The first airliner to use winglets for better aerodynamics

All these made the A300 a perfect substitute for the wide body trijets such as McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011 for short to medium routes. On the early versions, Airbus even used the same engines and similar major systems as the DC-10. Asian airlines bought the concept and used the early A300s as a complement to the wide body trijets on such routes.

In-service

After the launch, sales of the A300 were weak for some years, with most orders going to airlines that had an obligation to order the locally-made product - notably Air France and Lufthansa. At one stage, Airbus had 16 "whitetail" A300s - completed but unsold aircraft - sitting on the tarmac.

In 1977 giant US carrier Eastern Airlines leased four A300s as an in-service trial. Frank Borman, ex-astronaut and the then CEO, was impressed as the A300 consumes 30% less fuel than his fleet of Tristars and then ordered 23 of the type. This was followed by an order from Pan Am. From then on, the A300 family sold well, eventually reaching the current total of 843 on order or delivered.

Also, Olympic Airlines operated A300-B4 and A300-605R jets for several years. Now it only operates a single A300-622R (SX-BEM 'Creta') (as of February 2005).

It found particular favour with Asian airlines. It was bought by Japan Air System, Thai Airlines International, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, China Airlines, PIA, Indian Airlines, Trans Australia Airlines and many others. As Asia was not restricted by the FAA 60-minutes ruling for twin-engine airliners which existed at the time, Asian airlines used A300s for routes across Bay of Bengal and South China Sea.

The Australians used them for domestic transcontinental routes. By 1981, Airbus was growing rapidly, with over 300 aircraft sold and options for 200 more planes for over forty airlines. This fact was not lost to Boeing which responded with the Boeing 767.

The A300 provided Airbus the experience of manufacturing and selling airliners competitively. The basic fuselage of the A300 was later streched (A330 and A340), shrunk (A310), or modified into many derivatives (Airbus Beluga).

Currently, the A300 is reaching the end of its market life and is now mainly sold as a dedicated freighter. The current version is the A300-600R and is rated for 180-minute ETOPS. The A300 has enjoyed renewed interest in the secondhand market for conversion to freighters. The freighter versions - either new-build A300-600's or converted ex-passenger A300-600's, A300B2's and B4's - account for most of the world freighter fleet after the Boeing 747 freighter.

Models

  • A300B1 Only two were built: the first prototype and a second aircraft which was later sold for airline service. It has accommodation for 259 passengers with a maximum weight of 132,000 kg and two General Electric CF6-50A engines of 220 kN thrust.
  • A300B2 The first production version. Powered by CF6 or Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines of between 227 and 236kn thrust, it entered service with Air France in May 1974.
  • A300B4 The major production version of the early years was similar to the B2 but with weight increased to 157 tonnes. Production of the B2 and B4 totaled 248.
  • A300FFCC The first 2-man crew airliner. First saw service with Garuda and Varig
  • A300B10 '(A310)' Introduced a shorter fuselage, a new, higher aspect ratio wing, smaller tail and two crew operation. It is available in standard -200 and the extended range -300 with 9,600km range in both passenger and full cargo versions. It is also available as a military tanker/transport serving the Luftwaffe. Sales to date total 260.
  • A300-600 The current version is the same length as the B2 and B4 but has increased space because it uses the A310 rear fuselage and tail. It has higher power CF6-80 or Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines and entered service in 1988. It is available in both passenger and freight versions, and forms the basis of the Airbus Beluga. 330 A300-600s have been sold.

Incidents

On July 3, 1988, Iran Air, Flight 655 was shot down by the USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf after being mistaken for an attacking Iranian F-14 Tomcat, killing all 290 passengers and crew.

On November 12, 2001, American Airlines, Flight 587 crashed into the Belle Harbour neighborhood of Queens, New York shortly after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport. All 260 people on board were killed. The official NTSB report of October 26, 2004 stated the cause of the crash was the overuse of the rudder to counter wake turbulence (causing the tail to eventually break off).

On November 22, 2003, a European Air Transport A300B4-203F, operating on behalf of DHL, was hit by an SA-7 'Grail' missile after take-off from Baghdad International Airport. The aeroplane rapidly lost hydraulic pressure, and thus controls. The crew (pilot Eric Genotte, first officer Steeve Michielson and Flight Engineer Mario Rofail) found that after extending the landing gear to create more drag, they could pilot the plane using differences in engine thrust. They managed to land the plane on the airport with minimal further damage.

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