British Airways captain Claire Bunton, who lives on the UK’s south coast, kindly agreed to tell MailOnline Travel what it’s like to fly the world’s biggest passenger plane.
‘It really is very very quiet – both inside and outside,’ says British Airways captain Claire Bunton.
The 48-year-old has been flying the A380 for two years now and has kindly agreed to tell MailOnline Travel just what it’s like to be in control of one. And it turns out that the low levels of noise it makes is one of the most surprising aspects of flying it.
That and the handling. And its ‘funky’ tech.
‘It is truly remarkable that 560 tonnes flies so beautifully,’ she says. ‘It’s very responsive and handles extremely well.’
Remarkable indeed, since the A380’s sheer size is utterly staggering.
It has wings that at 2,775 sq ft are 54 per cent bigger than those of a Boeing 747, four Rolls-Royce engines that are the size of a Mercedes C-series and enough storage space to transport 469 passengers, in a BA configuration.
It’s so big that only around 20 runways in the world can handle it.
But its enormousness comes in handy for battling turbulence.
Bunton, who used to be a professional kitesurfer, says that a 500-plus-tonne cruise weight, coupled with great wing design and sophisticated controls ‘results in a very comfortable ride and the aircraft performing well in turbulence’.
It’s good during crosswind landings, too, apparently.
‘In crosswinds it’s very responsive and handles extremely well,’ says Bunton, who lives on the UK south coast and in Cape Town in the winter.
‘In a cross-wind an aircraft will track down the approach centre line lined-up with the runway. We point the aircraft into wind to offset the crosswind and to keep tracking the runway centre line. We call this “crabbed”. On the A380 we flare [bring the nose up gently] for touchdown at approximately 40ft. Just before touchdown we gently apply some rudder with our feet to align the aircraft with the runway at just the right point… Yes, all this at 170mph!’
Landings can be aided by a very clever system called a BTV, which applies just the right amount of braking force for a pre-set runway exit.
Bunton explains: ‘The A380 has many funky bits of kit on it, including a BTV or Brake To Vacate option. This allows us to select the runway exit before landing, so instead of using a set auto-brake figure, or our foot brakes, the aircraft will apply the efficient carbon brakes at exactly the correct moment to ensure we vacate the runway as quickly as possible using minimum braking. It’s brilliant!’
So that the operating pilots are fresh for the landing on ultra-long-haul flights, the flight crew will be bolstered by an extra pilot.
There is also a hidden sleeping area, but it’s not the ideal place to be in turbulence.
Bunton says: ‘We have a plush pilot bunk area. To save space the bunks are positioned laterally across the aircraft. In turbulence the rocking of the aircraft is not so comfortable if you’re lying laterally.’
Safety is obviously a priority for any British Airways flight – and to make sure that A380 pilots are in total control, they go through very rigorous training.
Bunton has previously flown 747s and 777s for BA in a career that began in 1990, but still had 14 weeks of training for the A380.