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Real world article: Flying the A320

Pro Member First Officer
Pro-Sim First Officer

All,

Came across this yesterday and posted it on the Just Flight PSS Forum. Very interesting article! Prior permission to post it on here so enjoy Airbus fans 😂

Flying the A320

A lot of people (pilots and non-pilots) ask me what it’s like to fly the A320 as compared to traditional airliners, that don’t have the Airbus fly-by-wire architecture. (I use the word architecture deliberately as the FBW interacts with a number of systems and operational aspects in the A320 and includes a huge amount of redundancy – it’s a lot more than a single “system” in itself!).

For me what makes the A320 great to operate and fly is a lot more than solely FBW, envelope protection, or sidesticks. The A320 (and it’s cousins) is great to operate because at the design stage it incorporates so many good ideas that make a pilot’s life that bit easier at the critical times of a line flight for an airline.

One great example of this is the Flight Director / Autopilot configuration and ‘automated’ approach to the modes that the FD and AP should be in after take-off and during climb. In the A320, after take off and climb out the FD will automatically enter it’s programmed lateral navigation phase at the appropriate time, and similarly will enter it’s vertical navigation direction (for FD or AP) automatically. Ok, so perhaps it’s not a huge task to select LNAV and VNAV modes at the right moment on a Boeing but the point is that the Pilot can concentrate on the flying and this makes a key difference during busy departure procedures. Of course there is the option for a “Heading Pull” (what we informally call the overriding of the NAV mode to switch the A320 onto a Heading Select mode) shortly after take-off should it be needed but the principal of the A320 is to have as much of the flight phases programmed into the MCDU (Flight Management Computer) so that the FD / AP knows where it is flying right from immediately after take-off down to the STARs, Vectors or visual approach (oh yes, we do love a visual in the A320!).

On first transferring from the 737 classics to the A320 I can still remember my first take-off roll and the feeling that there was something missing to grab onto while bombing down the runway at 170 miles per hour (reference to MPH instead on kts just for effect!). It felt a little like pulling off in your car and driving as normal but without having a steering wheel to hold onto. I had real butterflies in my stomach at VR because on the first flight it seems strange that a tweak of that joystick was going to rotate the plane. (Don’t be fooled by thinking that the word ‘sidestick’ is anything other than Airbus trying to make the product sound more professional – It’s a joystick and feels just like the one you may use to play video games, just a little firmer!).

But thankfully the plane did rotate, incredibly smoothly at that. The sidestick requires a gently touch at all phases of flight. For rotation we pull back gently but steadily, about one inch in travel if you were measuring backwards from the top of the stick. As the plane rotates you need to relax that pull and gradually return the stick to it’s natural fore/aft position (if you keep holding it back the plane will continue rotating and you’ll experience that envelope protection earlier than you were perhaps hoping to). As long as your not taking off into a cross wind and the wind speed is low, there’s very little correction required on the L/R axis of the side stick, as you fly your runway track. Most of the work is done flying your vertical profile. We fly to 1600’ (just after the Lever Climb phase where we pull the Throttles into the CL detent to engage AutoThrust SPEED mode) at V2+15, then reduce climb pitch to accelerate to 250kts for the remainder of the phase up to 10,000.

When it comes to the first lateral change in the flight, again the plane is really steady and rolls smoothly as long as the sidestick movements are firm but gradual. A lot of non-Airbus pilots say to me “Oh I bet you really miss the handflying with a yoke”. It often surprises them when I say that the handflying element with the sidestick is really enjoyable and pleasurable. You feel just as in control as you do with a yoke (sometimes more in control). Overall I would not want to change my rating to a non-sidestick aircraft. At least not at the moment.

A lot of airlines that operate the A320 have SOPs that mean that the pilots need to use the AP coupled to the ILS (where it’s available) down to something like 200’. Although this is also how Airbus suggest the plane be operated I disagree with this as a procedure and believe pilot should be given more discretion. In my airline we use the AP on and ILS approach down to around 1000’ before disconnecting and hand flying (unless on a Cat 3, etc). This uses the pilot’s flying skills a lot more and I’ve not yet met a pilot that doesn’t prefer to hand fly as much of their final approach as possible. On a visual, we generally hand fly once the aircraft is configured for landing (sometimes before).

Hand flying the approach in the A320 is the best part of operating this plane. I personally find the first phase of the final approach to be easier with the sidestick. The initial lining up feels more intuitive than it does with a yoke, However from about 500 feet, I do think it is a little more challenging landing in the A320 as compared to say the 737. At this phase I do feel a little less ‘connected’ to the flight surfaces than in a traditional aircraft. But our training and experience on the type soon builds the confidence and skills in this area! At 50’ the A320 adopts a deliberate slight nose down tendency which means that the Sidestick is used more liberally for the flare. We usually pull back on the stick about ¾ of it’s total travel when flaring. To a certain extent the A320 feels like it lands itself at this final phase. It’s rare to get a particularly heavy landing in a A320 but maybe as a passenger you know differently!

9 Responses

Pro Member Captain
Bindolaf Captain

Excellent article, thanks

Pro Member First Officer
Pro-Sim First Officer

Thanks Bindolaf 😀

Sorry I said I would give credit when posting the article. The author is Captain Mike Daly, who flies for an unnames European airline.

D.

Pro Member Captain
jarred_01 Captain

Thanks for that, great find.

Pro Member First Officer
JTH First Officer

Very interesting! What is this "fly by wire" technology anyway and is it in all Airbus aircraft?

Pro Member Chief Captain
Manuel Agustin Clausse (Agus0404) Chief Captain

Thank you so much Pro-Sim for that very interesting article. It was a nice reading and I enjoyed it very much. 😀

JTH, here's a link that explains what is Fly by Wire http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fly_by_wire

Yes, it is used on every single Airbus aircraft.

Sorry for not explaining to you with my own words about Fly by Wire, but it's too late here and I need to go to sleep. Tomorrow I'll be flying in real life on the A320 and A340-600 😀 😀

Pro Member First Officer
Pro-Sim First Officer

Hi Agus,

So you're lucky getting to fly on Airbus in the real world! I fly once per week with British Airways (Newcastle - London Gatwick) but it's always a boring 737 Classic ! (737-300 or 737-400) .......

I much prefer riding on the A320 or even better BA have some nice A319s. 😂

So where are you flying - Are you returning to Argentina for Christmas vacation ?

David. 🙂

Pro Member Captain
Kareem El-Sadi (crosscheck9) Captain

Great article Pro-Sim -- thank you!

Pro Member First Officer
Pro-Sim First Officer

You're very welcome 😉

There's another superb real world article from a CRJ pilot out at the moment, I saw it the other day but I can't seem to find out on Google now Embarassed

D.

Pro Member Chief Captain
Manuel Agustin Clausse (Agus0404) Chief Captain

Hello David,

Yes, I was going to Argentina for Christmas vacations. I am in Argentina right now 😀

When I get back to Portugal I'll post some pics 😉

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