Why go around in circles? This strange journey of a plane yesterday


From Toulouse to Toulouse, yesterday, a new A321 XLR aircraft carried out a test flight that was original to say the least. For 13 hours, he will have covered 8700 kilometers crossing France, Wales, Scotland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and finally Italy, before returning to landing at Toulouse-Blagnac airport. In the Bay of Biscay, in the Gulf of Biscay, he took the opportunity to draw an XLR-shaped trajectory, the initials of the version of the aircraft, relating to “Xtra Long Range”.

The longest flight recorded to date for a commercial aircraft lasted more than 18 hours. But that does not make that of the A321 XLR yesterday a trivial flight. In reality, flying 13 hours and covering 8700 kilometers for a narrow-body aircraft shows the efficiency that Airbus finds today with its new technologies. The one that seemed to only allow short-haul and medium-haul flights is now able to be ordered by companies to make transatlantic flights.

This will not be enough to operate a Paris-Los Angeles flight, but enough to connect Paris to Guadeloupe for example. At this time, the only planes that make this kind of flight are Airbus A330, A340, A350 or A380. At Boeing too, the long-haul aircraft are B777, B787 or B747. The B737 Max 8 are not able to achieve more than 6,600 kilometers on a single tank. The new A321, already without the XLR version, has allowed companies like TAP Portugal to connect Lisbon to New York, Boston and Toronto, without having to pay for a fleet of long-haul aircraft.

Why make such a flight?

Let’s go back to the flight made yesterday by the Airbus engineers. While the device is scheduled to enter service in 2024, the tests are still linked. And this time, the program was to test the autonomy, but also the extreme conditions in terms of temperature: the plane tested its cold resistance systems for the fuel at altitudes where the temperature reaches – 60 degrees . “All transfers worked correctly, all indications to the crew were good, all transfer rates were nominal”, concluded Jim Fawcett, the flight test’s lead engineer.

Airbus A321 XLR fuel

The main tank of the A321 XLR is located directly in the fuselage © Airbus

Cold weather testing will continue in 2023, with a view to achieving full certification by the end of the year. We do not yet know the planned routes, but one thing is certain, the pilots will continue to see the country. The latter also specified, in response to one of the most popular questions from Internet users, that they had completed the course to draw the XLR initials in manual mode, without outside help. It took them 3 hours, at 27,000 feet.

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