• Review: Bus Driver - The iniBuilds Airbus A300

    iniBuilds Airbus A300

    This being the story of how he abandoned Boeing for a time, and
    took up with a plump French Tart! And, by the by, a review of an
    outstanding new product for X-Plane 11.

    In the beginning there was Henry Ford; who, as Ernie Gann wrote, seemed to have enticed all of the Aunt Mabels of the country to turn in their washboards to be fashioned into airliners. Then came Donald Douglas, who at the behest of first TWA and later American, created the most timeless airliner of all time! Then came Lockheed, and Convair, and Martin and soon the world was overrun with airliners. But finally came Boeing, and conquered all, for a time, during which the others faded away, some quickly, some slowly. And Boeing did rule the roost.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the European ranch, an airliner specification was quietly making its way around the several old world airliner manufacturers. It was, oddly, an American specification - meaning American Airlines, and it was the brainchild of one Frank Kolk, who was Vice President of Engineering at AA.

    When the US airlines decided, early on, that the 747 was simply too large for domestic use (even though many bought them, largely because the passengers loved them) they proceeded to underwrite the next generation of wide bodies - the DC-10 and L-1011. Frank Kolk drew up the American Airlines specification for this class of airplane and it featured two engines, of roughly the size and power of the engines on the 747's. Not for the first time (remember the 727 story?), most of the airlines wanted more engines, thus the three engine layouts of Douglas and Lockheed's nearly identical pair. The American specification continued to float around for awhile, eventually finding its way to Europe.

    iniBuilds Airbus A300
    Eastern was the first US customer for the original A-300

    Dassault, Sud-Est, and a few other entities had by now formed a new conglomerate called Airbus Industrie, and they were very interested in the AA specification, to the point of talking with Kolk about it, but by that time American was invested in the DC-10. Nonetheless, the widebody twin was designed and built as the Airbus A-300. A number of airlines around the world, including Eastern Airlines in the US, bought them and put them into service in the 1970's. This original A-300 was fairly conventional, with a three man crew and a flight engineer station in the cockpit. It was not initially a big seller, but it was successful enough that further developments were forthcoming, including a "shortie" version dubbed the A-310. This was significant because it was the first variant to feature a somewhat automated, two pilot flight deck. As time went by, Airbus decided to graft the automation and the two crew cockpit onto the larger A-300B4 fuselage, thus begetting the A-300-600.

    iniBuilds Airbus A300
    Wardair Canada A-310, the short version that introduced the two man cockpit.

    By this time Boeing had also gotten into the widebody twin market, with the 767. There was, initially, a controversy in the USA over the three versus two pilot crew issue; and not until a Presidential commission had cleared the way for two pilot operations did the 767 take off, so to speak.

    iniBuilds Airbus A300

    The competition between the A-300 and the new 767 was interesting to behold. The initial 767-200 was somewhat smaller than the A-300, and had a fuselage of slightly smaller diameter. This made it necessary to design new smaller under deck cargo containers for it. Airbus had built the A-300 with a larger, perfectly circular fuselage that could accommodate two of the regular wide body containers side by side, and of course they tried to make some marketing hay about it, but the industry turned out to be quite sanguine about building smaller containers, and the 767 did not lose sales on this account. A few years after the introduction of the 767-200, Boeing did what they and Douglas had always done best - they stretched the design and made the 767-300. With this airplane they had a closer match for the passenger capacity of the A-300-600.

    iniBuilds Airbus A300
    A-300-605R in AA colors at Toulouse in a publicity shot. I still bears French registration. (AA photo)

    All the while, Airbus was trying hard to sell the latest models of the A-300 to US airlines, a factor that did not go unnoticed at AA headquarters. Bob Crandall drove hard bargains, as all of the employees at AA were to eventually find out (but of course, these bargains also had the effect of strengthening the company, thus ensuring durable careers for many, including yours truly!). But not only employees -- suppliers of all sorts found this out as well: if you wanted to do big business with AA, you had to offer a great deal. So Airbus and Crandall hammered out a great deal - an initial total of 25 A-300-605R's on what was essentially a Hertz-like rental agreement (in contrast to the long term capital leases that typically financed airplane purchases for airlines). It was an agreement that could even be cancelled early on if AA was not satisfied. Such a deal!

    iniBuilds Airbus A300
    Another publicity shot over France (AA photo)

    Interestingly, Boeing also offered a nearly identical "bargain" on new 767-300 ER's, and Crandall, loath to leave anything on the table, took them up on it to the tune of 25 of them, causing a good deal of heartburn at Airbus. But both deals were done; and, as it turned out, the two types would constitute the entirety of my flying for the last 18 years of my career. In the end, we would get 10 more Airbuses and become the largest A-300 operator in the world, considering only passenger versions (FedEx and UPS now have many more, and are still operating them. In fact, Airbus was still building them as freighters until 2007). But, in the end, it was the 767 which became the king of our fleet for a long time, and we eventually ended up with over 100 of them, mostly the -300ER variant.


    8 Comments
    1. djfierce's Avatar
      djfierce -
      Thanks for the review Tony. This was very enjoyable to read, though I'll admit I enjoyed your musings about your real life experiences even more. I could listen to military/airline pilots tell stories for days.
    1. ussmidway's Avatar
      ussmidway -
      Nice read over coffee this morning. Thanks Tony. I'm actually looking forward to a PC upgrade so I can start using X-Plane, as well as MSFS2020. I will keep this one on my radar.
    1. alanmerry's Avatar
      alanmerry -
      Thanks Tony for a fascinating and readable piece. Such insights into real world operations add to the sim experience.
    1. tirith63's Avatar
      tirith63 -
      I've known a few pilots in my time, but most of them won't talk to me about their flying time (could be me, maybe I need a shower). Your reminiscences definitely make me want to hop on the simulator and delve more deeply into real-world operations. So thanks for sharing - you should write a book about it - you'd have at least one sure sale Most appreciated.
    1. gipsymoth236k's Avatar
      gipsymoth236k -
      Thanks for the GREAT review Tony! I too flew the A300/A310s at FedEx for 13 years, and I must say, I agree that this simulation is absolutely a fantastic piece of software! So glad that iniBuilds came up with the very same Airbus A300-600R(F) that FedEx flies. Does the simulation currently need a few little patches here and there? Sure, but I understand they're currently working some updates, but my overall impression so far is - HOLLY COW!!

      Best, Gary
    1. N069NT's Avatar
      N069NT -
      Great read. When I was a kid, our next door neighbor was a Southern Airways DC-9 pilot as was the family across the street (both former Korean-era military pilots). The across the street neighbor took retirement in the late 1970s but the next door neighbor continued when Southern merged with North Central Airlines to form Republic which later was bought by Northwest not long after Republic bought Hughes Airwest (whew!). He got a European route captain slot on the DC-10 for a few years before retiring. I'll never forget him rejecting the ETOPS approval of the A300 and 767 for across the pond flights even when he was still flying domestic in the DC-9. Yeah there was some FUD there, but the old dude had 35+ years of flying and probably the same amount of thousands of hours under his belt when he retired. I flew countless hours with him in Cessnas and he always said you can never have too many engines when over big bodies of water. Old school radial engine reliability issues he had flying DC-4s to and from Korea out of San Diego via Hawaii as a US Navy transport pilot never left his mind!
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -
      I, too, had some misgivings when the ETOPS was originally proposed, despite having flown nothing but reliable jets. But I have to admit that the record has shown that two engines, at least of the reliability of the current crop, are in fact doing the job well. Ditto for the two person cockpit, which I originally thought very little of. Now they are talking about a one-crew cockpit, and again my innate conservatism rebels at the thought, not that I have a dog in the fight any longer! But I will probably pass on even riding in one, at least for a long time - and for me a long time is probably beyond my expiration date! Cest la vie....
    1. judeb's Avatar
      judeb -
      I can only say that I bought this on day one of release, and very addictive it is indeed. The learning curve is not too different to the A320, and it's a great mixture of old and new. Great review and enjoyed the history lessons.
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