With final ground tests taking place in Toulouse, the first Airbus A350 test aircraft looks only days away from entering a flight test program expected to last around 12 months.

MSN001 is expected to perform high-speed taxi test and high engine power runs on June 7 after the aircraft’s Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines had been powered up for the first time on June 2. “That was a great moment,” says Executive Vice President and head of the A350 program Didier Evrard at Airbus’s Toulouse facility.

In addition to the June 2 engine run, all A350 systems were subsequently turned on.

The aircraft taxied slowly for the first time earlier this week. To be able to fly, Airbus needs reasonably good weather with a cloud ceiling not lower than 1,500 ft. and visibility of not less than three kilometers. The only real showstopper would be thunderstorms. “We don’t want to be hit by lightning at this stage,” says Frank Chapman, an A350 project test pilot.

“We are at a high level of readiness and quality,” Evrard says. That assessment not only applies to the aircraft itself, but also to the test equipment.” Evrard is also pleased with the level of maturity achieved in the development phase. “We have reached a level of maturity that is comparable to entry into service in past programs. That is a very strong asset for the program,” he notes.

MSN002, the third test aircraft, also entered the final assembly line last week after all components arrived.

First flight will mark the start of a flight test campaign that will span around 2,500 hr. and involve five test aircraft. “The nominal target time for flight tests is one year, but there is always some uncertainty,” Evrard says.

Airbus has already named the six-strong flight crew for the first flight of the Airbus A350. Peter Chandler, the company’s chief test pilot, will be at the controls of MSN001, along with Guy Magrin, an A350 project pilot. The two will be accompanied in the cockpit by Pascal Verneau, project test flight engineer. Three experimental flight test engineers Fernando Alonso, Patrick du Che and Emanuele Constanzo will monitor the flight at test stations installed in the cabin.

As for the first flight, “we start in the middle of the envelope” in terms of speed, center of gravity and other parameters such as altitude, Chapman explains. The take-off and initial phase of the flight will be performed in direct law with the flight control computers disconnected. Chandler and Magrin are planning to take the aircraft to an initial altitude of 10,000 ft. and a speed of around 200 knots. “They then look at gear retraction,” says Chapman, who will be cooperating with the crew of a chase aircraft that is monitoring the MSN001’s process.

Once the gear has been successfully retracted, Chandler is planning to switch on the flight control computers and push the speed up to the higher end of the range and go up to 25,000 ft. High speed and high altitude testing is to be performed at up to 43,000 ft. before approach and arrival preparations are begun. The aircraft is then to make a fly past over the runway at 1,000 ft. before returning to the field for landing.

Chapman says a thorough evaluation of flight data will be conducted. “We won’t do the second flight until we understand what has happened and why,” Chapman says. Airbus plans to introduce more pilots to A350 flying quickly, but over the first few weeks it will only by a group of four. Eventually all 20 experimental test pilots will participate in the campaign.

Airbus has been considering an A350 flight display at the Paris air show, but Chapman cautions that pilots and engineers need to be fully comfortable with doing that and authorities must agree, too, to flying a test aircraft over Paris.

One of the new features in the test program is the “airline 1” concept. Airbus wants to simulate airline operations by trying to implement quicker fixes. Launch customer Qatar Airways is to become increasingly involved in the trials as first delivery nears.