DALLAS – The Airbus A300 was the European manufacturer’s first-ever aircraft. It was also the first widebody in the world to feature a twin aisle.
While plenty of airlines operated her as a capable passenger jet, she also did something more special by offering 22 or so seconds of zero-G or complete weightlessness to trainee astronauts by flying parabolic curves prepping them for a real space adventure that was yet to come.
There’ve been a few organizations that have offered the Zero-G concept on various aircraft, but this article looks more closely at the A300 and its’s later, an A310 operated in Europe.
All these aircraft fly specific parabolic trajectories that have proven to be a milestone for space exploration training and research for decades. During these flights, scientists are able to conduct real-time experiments while in a weightless environment.
The Parabolic Maneuver of the A300
On the whole, a series of 31 parabolic maneuvers are carried out during a flight at an altitude of approximately 5000m or ~ 17,000ft The technically difficult parabola flight maneuvers are carried out by experienced French test pilots.
From a steady horizontal flight, the aircraft is at its near top speed before gradually pulling up and starts climbing to an angle between 45-47 degrees. This pull-up phase lasts for about 20 seconds, during which the aircraft experiences an acceleration of around 1.8 times the gravity level at the surface of the Earth (1.8G).
The engine thrust is then strongly reduced to the minimum required to compensate for air resistance, and eventually, the aircraft then follows a free-fall trajectory forming a parabola lasting another 20 seconds approximately, and this is the “Zero-G” period where weightlessness occurs – a microgravity environment.
At the end of this period, the aircraft pulls out of the parabolic arc preventing a dive which lasts another 20 seconds with 1.8g to return to normal attitude.
F-BUAD flew these missions for 17 years before finally making its exit in 2014. It was also the world’s largest airplane used for gravity-based research. At present this very aircraft sits right out Koln-Bonn Airport (CGN) in Germany open to admirers that pass by.
While these zero-gravity missions had to keep going on, a new incomer was brought in – an Airbus A310, stubby as the former but shorter in length. The A310 was modified by Lufthansa Technik. However, the structure, engines, and systems were not changed.
Finally, it underwent a final review by the European Aviation Safety Agency and the French Civil Aviation Authority. CNES, ESA, and DLR are the main partners and users of the parabolic flight program.
Initially, these parabolic flights were for astronauts to train in microgravity, but are now mainly used for microgravity experiments and to test space technologies.
As mentioned earlier, besides the A300/A310 in Europe, a Boeing 727-200 in the USA and three Ilyushin Il-76 MDKs in Russia operate such flights under parabolic trajectories simulating complete weightlessness.
Featured image: airzerog.com