HAMBURG – As the skies of Hamburg cleared, Airbus’ latest next-generation narrowbody aircraft, the A321XLR (Extra Long Range) took off on its first test flight, a significant milestone for the highly anticipated aircraft.
On board were five test pilots and engineers, who monitored the aircraft’s aircraft’s flight controls, engines, and main systems, including flight envelope protections, both at high and low speed throughout the four-hour, thirty-five-minute test flight.
First announced at the Paris Air Show in 2019, the new aircraft is the latest iteration of the best-selling A320 family of aircraft and aims to significantly extend the range and performance capabilities of the largest of the type, the A321neo, to unlock more fuel-efficient flight operations for airlines worldwide.
A Look at the A321XLR’s Potential
With a hyper-focus on range, the A321XLR will be capable of flying 8700 kilometers thanks to its unique fuel tank system—18% further than the current A321LR that’s already on the market.
Airbus boasts the aircraft as the perfect solution for routes that are currently operated by wide bodies that fail to fill up all their seats. Additionally, the A321XLR can cover non-stop transatlantic routes even in unfavorable wind conditions.
The mammoth range is what Airbus expects the type to be able to perform based on ground calculation and reports, but as it’s only the first test flight, and while several more remain on their to-do list, the aircraft’s capabilities will become clearer as more tests are completed.
As Gary O’ Donnell, Head of the A321XLR programs states, “the aim is to have it at 8700 km”. The aircraft also features the “Airbus Cabin Flex” fuselage shape, in which the second pair of doors are pushed behind the wing.
How Does the A321 XLR Differ?
In order to achieve maximum range capabilities, Airbus has modified several key components of the aircraft, including the landing gear, flap configuration, and fuel tanks.
The A321XLR includes a permanent Rear Centre Tank (RCT) for more fuel volume, which takes up less space in the cargo hold compared to the installation of several Additional Centre Tanks (ACTs).
Additionally, the aircraft features an optimized wing trailing-edge flap configuration “to preserve the same take-off performance and engine thrust requirements as today’s A321neo,” according to Airbus.
Following today’s test, Airbus will conduct a substantial series of test flights, as is customary with any new aircraft, on three test beds. Today’s flight test aircraft, MSN11000, was equipped with CFM engines, while the second airframe, MSN11058, will be tested with Pratt & Whitney powerplants. The third type, MSN11080, will be used for a “mature” flight that will have a fully configured cabin.
While speaking to Lois Benquet, Media Relations Manager of Airbus, she mentioned that the A321XLR is to enter service in 2024. When asked about how many of the type will be manufactured per month, Benquet mentioned that it will be part of the overall A320 family aircraft monthly production that is expected to be 65 aircraft by the summer of 2023 and 75 a month by 2025.
Featured Image: Airbus