The first engine destined to power the 21st Century flagship A380, the Rolls-Royce Trent 900, made a successful first-flight aboard Airbus’ A340-300 testbed today.

The flight, which lasted 3 hr and 40 min, begins a 50-60 hour programme of some 30 flights spread over almost four months. It was flown by Experimental Test Pilots Peter Chandler and Wolfgang Absmeier, accompanied by Flight Test Director Fernando Alonso and Flight Test Engineers Jacky Joye and Gerard Desbois.

The flight trials, which follow extensive ground-based testing by Rolls-Royce, will provide early feedback on engine behaviour in the air, paving the way for those of the Airbus A380, which are due to begin early next year. The results will also help to ensure a smooth and reliable entry into airline service in the second quarter of 2006.

Generating 70,000 lb of thrust in its A380 role, the Trent 900 is more than twice as powerful as each of the four 34,000 lb CFM56-5C4 engines that normally power the A340-300. It is the largest and most powerful engine to fly on any Airbus aircraft. During the trials, the Trent 900 replaces the inner left CFM56-5C4 on the A340.

In addition to exploring engine behaviour, the flight-trials will investigate some of the new engine-driven systems that will be used by the Airbus A380. These include hydraulic pumps generating a pressure of 5,000 psi and variable-frequency electrical generators.

Airlines have a choice of engines to power their Airbus A380s – Rolls-Royce Trent 900s or the competing Engine Alliance GP7200s. The Trent 900, which is the first to take to the air, will power initial flight trials of the A380, and will power the first versions of the aircraft delivered to airlines. Flight trials of the GP7200 on General Electric’s flying testbed are due to begin in autumn this year.

With 129 firm orders already to its credit from eleven prestigious customers – Air France, Emirates, Federal Express, ILFC, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways – the A380 is one of Airbus’ most successful programmes ever.

Airbus designs, builds and supports the world’s most modern and comprehensive airliner family, with different sizes and ranges to match every airline need in the market above 100 seats. It unites 50,000 aerospace employees, mainly in France, Germany, Spain and the UK.

Airbus is an EADS joint Company with BAE Systems.