A350 XWB/Chomping Chantelle’s first flight

14th  June 2013

At the Airbus Filton site where I currently work, for about 2 hours during another usually casual Friday work atmosphere, work completely stopped for more than an hour.  This wasn’ t because electricity was down as if we were working in Lagos, Nigeria, and Filton employees were standing by for the generator to be powered on.  The reason was that A350 XWB, an aircraft that most would have been involved in its development in smaller or larger ways, was having it very first flight – MSN1’s very own Bar Mitzvah.  Their baby as she is affectionately referred to  by many, was now ready to fly.

Caricature by Maurice

Caricature by Maurice CHRETIEN

10th June 2008 (roughly)

All aboard a chartered coach heading for a field near Heathrow, because the local authority was concerned that an aircraft flying near a motorway could stray out the reach of its on-the-ground controller.  This wasn’t testing for the latest fighter pilot-displacing UAV, but the first flight for a model aircraft built as part of a final year group project. No Champagne, no media coverage (Airbus TV, local, national), no specially ordered cakes or large audience well past double figures. There was, though, just as much anticipation, preparation, a fews eyes watching and futures at stake.


The success of the A350 XWB has meant that the company behind it has captured 678 orders already, 69 at the recent Paris airshow where the aircraft flew by. The timing clearly a strategic move.

Facilitators of the Chomping Chantelle have now gone on to different things – one is writing this blog post, others this and that.

Airbus now has to concentrate on delivering its orders on time, so it’s back to work across the Airbus sites all over Europe and the fantastic ‘capture the flag’ site in Mobil, Alabama (A320 final assembly). When the noise of your success is made in your rival’s backyard, it is sure to make him green with envy, or is that fuel efficiency?

PFI Funding of RAF Voyager

During my final few months at Kingston University, just like everyone else wanting to graduate, a 15,000 word dissertation on a project of choice was required. Mine was the design of a Fire-fighting Aircraft, in which I proposed that the modification of an existing aircraft will be the ideal way of going about this.

RAF Voyager, the Aircraft to replace the VC-10 just like my theoretical Fire-fighting aircraft is a modified Aircraft – an Airbus A330-200. With such a proven track record, it is no surprise that similar decisions have been made by the Governments of India, USA, Australia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, France.

However, the peculiar aspect of the Voyager is the means by which the project is being funded – PFI (Public Finance Initiative).

Under this arrangement, the private sector takes on the risk of designing, building, maintaining and operating the 14 MRTT Aircrafts (Multi Role Transport Tanker), to the output specifications set by the MOD which includes Aerial Refuelling Capabilities. As a result the Airtanker Consortium (Shareholder breakdown below) was formed and awarded the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) contract in 2008.

At a RAeS lecture on the 23rd of February 2011, James Scott - Director of Flight Operations at Airtanker, said this route allows for healthy collaboration between the public and private sector that gets the best of both worlds.

Several Individuals though, disagree that PFI is the best available finance option, including the National Audit Office who published a report detailing the deficiencies of the PFI deal, some of which are costs that are likely to spiral beyond the published estimated values.

The following is a quote from the NAO report published 30 march 2010.

The contract for FSTA is likely to cost arround £10.5 billion over its duration, although this is a forecast based on expected usage rates and the actual cost could vary. The department [MOD] has estimated the full project cost at £12.3 billion, once its own ongoing costs are included. FSTA will cost the department [MOD[ an average annual payment of around £390 million to Airtanker, but the department [MOD] will not start paying for the contract until FSTA is introduced to service. In addition, the department [MOD] will pay £60 million per annum on personnel, fuel and other related costs. Between the start of the formal assessment phase and contract signature, the department spent £48 million managing the project, including £27 million on advisers, £10 million on supporting the bidders and £11 million on internal costs.

A series of reports have also been published by the House of Commons‘ Treasury commitee, that concluded that PFI deals are too costly, inflexible and opaque.

In a BBC radio 4 programme broadcast in June last year, one of the issues raised with PFI deals is that Equity holders (See Chart above for Airtanker shareholders) are known to sell on their shares for as much as 30% profit. Even If equities are not sold, it is difficult to determine whether excessive profits are not being made on the deals due to a lack of access to cost breakdown of projects. Some of the more technical flaws of the project, are discussed in a very long blog post here.

Personally, I conclude that although these public-private partnerships are an excellent idea, the execution so far have been very dissapointing.

A400M: a grizzly’s first sighting

Thursday, 24th March

In an attempt to turn over the 2-storey sogeclair aerospace ship, same as a scene in the third installment of the pirates of the caribbean films, we ran from one side of the building to another to catch a glimpse of the Airbus A400M making its way to the company’s site in Filton.

This is the first visit of the Aircraft that almost never happened due to several delays but despite these glitches we were excited to finally see with our own eyes the aircraft dubbed the grizzly.

Friday 25th March

True to it’s name, the aircraft was caged somewhere at the filton site, giving a first sighting to many who could not help but open their mouths in shear amazement of the size of the aircraft. Cameras came out to capture the beauty of the grizzly, she wasn’t a size zero neither as it was quite difficult to capture the entire aircraft in a single shot. I wished i had my Holga 120 wide pinhole camera to try out for the first time.

Click here for flickr link to 30 exclusive pictures of Airbus A400M

Please check back for video.


Discovering/Deciding your area of Specialism

In my post, I might seem to be somewhat of a leech, responding to what others say, said, done or did. I’ll explain the reason for this is simply because it never ceases to get people’s counter reaction, which is the whole point of this blog – a platform for engineers to air their issues, concerns e.t.c.

In this, I’m reacting to an earlier on ‘the knack’.

… But what happens after you’ve discovered ‘the knack’ after you’ve taken apart your first VCR and cannot figure out how to put it back together again?

How do you know what area you would like to specialise in?

How do you decide on what area to specialise in, in your chosen field of Engineering?

The answers to these questions constantly changed for me till the start of University in 2005 and Aerospace Engineering won the first, simply because it was the most interesting. I thought ‘those gigantic birds in the sky, how do they manage to do that’.

Now that I’ve started work in the Aerospace industry, I’ve found that sooner or later, I’ll have to decide on a particular area to focus on.  My work right now is in Design, it’s what I studied at university but I find myself drawn to ‘technical authorship’ or similar, since I enjoy writing hence my presence on this blog. On how my career is going to pan out, I do not know but watch this space.

Perhaps I’ll end by posing a question to the most specialist, specialist person on here – Rob Thornton,

…Why Tribology?