Virtual Cockpit and Drive by Wire are terms commonly used in automotive field today. But you won’t be surprised to know that Cockpit as a word first used in fighter planes and later on in commercial planes. Drive by Wire, interestingly is a derivation of Fly by Wire, which for the first time was used by Airbus in their A320 Program, and since than, has been the go-to functionality for any planes that they built later on.
What is more interesting about the Airbus A320 is the fact that it was the world’s first aircraft to deploy a mainframe computer to take away the-controls from the captain and give it to the computer, which once again became the genesis of the planes that the world built in future.
It is interesting to note, that an A320 takes off or lands every 1.6 seconds every single day on every continent, right from the heat of the desert to icy Antarctic runways or from short runway urban environments to remote high-altitude ones.
So how is this aircraft, we invite Commander & Captain Himanshu Sharma, who has more than 10000 hours of flying experience on this magnificent machine to tell us how is it to fly the Airbus A320.
Before we jump into looking at the A320 in details, lets look at why and when it was build
Airbus A320 History
When Airbus designed the Airbus A300 during the late 1960s and early 1970s, it envisaged a broad family of airliners with which to compete against Boeing and Douglas, two established US aerospace manufacturers. From the moment of formation, Airbus had begun studies into derivatives of the Airbus A300B in support of this long-term goal.Prior to the service introduction of the first Airbus airliners, engineers within Airbus had identified nine possible variations of the A300 known as A300B1 to B9. A 10th variation, conceived in 1973, later the first to be constructed, was designated the A300B10. It was a smaller aircraft which would be developed into the long-range Airbus A310. Airbus then focused its efforts on the single-aisle market, which was dominated by the 737 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9.
In June 1977 a new Joint European Transport(JET) programme was set up, established by BAe, Aerospatiale, Dornier and Fokker.It was based at the then British Aerospace(formerly Vickers) site in Weybridge, Surrey, UK. Although the members were all of Airbus' partners, they regarded the project as a separate collaboration from Airbus. This project was considered the forerunner of Airbus A320, encompassing the 130- to 188-seat market, powered by two CFM56s.It would have a cruise speed of Mach 0.84 (faster than Boeing 737).The programme was later transferred to Airbus, leading up to the creation of the Single-Aisle (SA) studies in 1980, led by former leader of JET programme, Derek Brown.
In February 1981, the project was re-designated as A320. The A320 would carry 150 passengers over 3440 kms with fuel from wing fuel tanks only.
The first ever A320 was built in March 1984 and it first flew in February 1987, and interestingly was delivered to Air France as their launch customer. Since then, there has been continuous improvement in the Airbus A320 Program and the final assembly of this family takes place in Toulouse, France and Hamburg Germany. As of 31st July 2019, a total of 8900 A320’s have been delivered out of which 8500 are in service and operational.
The last update to the Airbus A320 Program has been in 2010, when Airbus introduced the A320 Neo, with more efficient engines, combined with airframe improvements and addition of winglets, named as Sharklets by Airbus,
Airbus A320 Family
The Airbus A320 family includes A318/319/320/321. It is a Medium Range subsonic airplane representing the most successful and versatile jetliners ever it was also the game changer of the airline industry. It was developed with a revolutionary concept of FLY BY WIRE used 1st time on a civil aircraft. Previously it was unanimous to fighter aircraft only. This simply means the flight control surface to stick relation is governed by electronic signals rather than traditional pulleys and cables. The A320 family can seat from 100-240 passengers depending on the type of plane and the seating concept chosen by the buying airline.
The A318/319 are usually used mostly as corporate jets and the A319 is used by airlines as well for different short field and performance limited airfields.
A320 and A321 are widely used by Airlines all around the world. We are going to talk about A320 in detail. On the exterior its a symmetrically designed aircraft which is aerodynamically very efficient and saves a lot of fuel and other costs. The principal dimensions are as demonstrated in the diagram below. There are two versions a winglet design and a sharklet design.
A320 Principal Dimensions
The cockpit of the aircraft is a spacious forward looking design which requires a minimum of 2 pilots and can have up to 2 observer seats of which one is compulsory for pilots/engineers/dispatchers doing observer duties. The design of the cockpit includes another revolutionary concept known as the glass cockpit. Which simply means no dials only screens for all primary instrument information which give flying navigation and engine and critical system info. It also features standby instruments either conventional or digital. It helps pilots focus on their flying duties well by simply looking at one place rather than moving their gaze all over the instrument panel for different parameters. The cockpit consists of another revolutionary feature called the side-stick which is the 1st ever on a civil airplane again. It’s a small stick on each side panel of the cockpit rather than the traditional control column which was in the middle of the pilot and the instrument panel. The side-stick provides efficient control and unobstructed view of the flight instruments to the pilots. Another feature which has been added and is very pilot friendly is a sliding table which helps pilots with routine writing work and meals etc. The cockpit has the instrument panel the overhead panel and the pedestal which are designed very efficiently.
A320 Family Engines
The A320 is powered by 4 different variants of engines which develop a power of 27000lbs at full thrust. The engines are
International Aero Engines (IAE) V2500: Which is a joint venture of three companies namely, Pratt and Whitney, MTU Aero Engines and Japanese Aero Engine Corporation.
CFM International: Which is a joint venture of GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines.The new revolutionary NEO (New Engine Option) technology was launched on 1st December 2010 and first flew on 25th September 2014 with Lufthansa was designed to be quieter and 15-20% more fuel efficient.
Flying the A320
The airplane is very pilot friendly and flies beautifully with the side-stick for manual control and the autopilot function for automatic control. The auto flight system governs the flight path and speed once the data is fed into the Flight Management and Guidance System (FMGS) which is done via the Multipurpose Control and Display Unit (MCDU) which is also the brain of the airplane. So the pilot feeds the brain with info and he/she is all set to take you from A-B. The airplane is capable of performing an Automatic landing down to full stop with the autopilot function.
Overall the A320 is a complete package. It is pilot friendly, spacious for pilots and passengers. Less complex and very comfortable for people coming from different airplanes to covert. The fly by wire system gives you the desired output with very little input. So to sum it all up the A320 family is a pilot’s best friend and a passenger’s paradise to fly in.
The airplane is sheer fun to fly. It’s a Play station Infinite version I would say. With Joysticks VR view in reality with 6 windows to get the best office view one can have, and an ultra-realism game flying with the latest technology on the face of this planet. Its smooth to handle it flies with the wrist input of the pilots feather touch switches for automation and the best part very difficult to take your eyes off the 6 LCD data screens giving you millions of informative inputs and prompts right in front of you. The audio visual interface is the best there can be and the best automation in the market. It goes as far as warning you “BRO, YOU DOING IT WRONG” or “BRO I THINK I AM SICK” in many aural/visual ways. And last but not the least sheer power under you. And to sum it up all. New Extra Long Range (XLR) coming soon in the market on the A320 family.
Verdict on the A320
As the longest-range single-aisle aircraft, airlines and passengers alike have benefitted from the A320’s exceptional efficiency and quality since its introduction, which has opened up exciting new travel possibilities throughout the world. Now with new engine options (NEO) available, the A320 Family continues to be the preferred choice for passengers and customers; setting the standard for the single-aisle market and securing its status as the world’s best-selling aircraft of all time.
This is an aircraft that you can rely on. This is the aircraft that changed the game.