For Airbus Americas Chief, Once An Engineer...

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President and CEO Barry Eccleston was among the scores of Airbus Americas employees who made their way to the company's suburban Virginia office before sunrise this morning to watch a live feed of the A350's first flight.

Shortly after the plane's arrival, the once-jammed conference room all but empty, the live feed was interrupted to show a replay of the landing. Eccleston lingered, claimed a seat in front of the room's largest screen, and watched the history-making moment one more time.

"For an airplane manufacturer, these events only happen once every 10 or 15 years," Eccleston says. "So this is very special."

Considering this is the first first flight of an Airbus commercial product since Eccleston's arrival in August 2005, his taking in of the replay could be seen as hardly surprising. Truth be told, he's been part of such moments before, and probably understands them better than the vast majority of folks who dabble in this sporty game.

Eccleston's career took hold at Rolls-Royce, where he started as a flight test engineer. He was on teams that celebrated milestones on the iconic RB211, the Spey that powered the F-4K Phantom, and versions of the Harrier's Pegasus powerplant. 

Being a major exec in an OEM on a first-flight day is a both an honor and a rush, says Eccleston. (He also was head of International Aero Engines--one of the two A320 engine suppliers--when that plane first flew in 1987.) However, he's pretty sure nothing can top the feeling engineers get when their hard work first amazes on the world stage.

"That," he says of being part of a flight test team on first-flight day, "is top of the totem pole for me."

Top of the totem pole--and worth a second look.

(Above: Airbus Americas President and CEO Barry Eccleston (left) and a few colleagues watch a replay of the A350's first landing. Photo: S. Broderick/Aviation Week)

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