Archive for October, 2011

The Magic Airbus

I would like to take a moment to dedicate this story to my dear grand-father who recently told me he actually likes my stories. To that, I have to say “Thanks, but it’s your fault.” It turns out that Talent (and stunningly potent good-looking Irish genes) are genetic. But this dedication is your’s, mainly because thanks to you I became interested enough in something that millions of people use a month. Interested enough to convince my family to take me to the Airbus Assembly Factory Tour in Toulouse,which is we have today’s story. I would also like to note the extreme absence of photos – apparently, someone tipped them off about a potential espionage attempt. Unfortunately, no-one knew about my autistic-like ability to remember imagery of Assembly factories to their precise details and recreate them in 3-Dimensionally. I was joking, of course. Actually I’ve never bothered to find out…(ramblings continue in this fashion until the next paragraph)

Ok, so it was a rainy day, but good as any for a tour. The drive took us past Blagnac Airport to the very edges of lesser Toulouse. We ditched the car and sprinted for the doors of the conveniently named Airbus Tours entry, shaped like the fuselage of an Airbus A380.

IMG_0979After confusing the desk-girl for a flight attendant — and asking for a 4th miniature bottle of wine that will hopefully finally lull me in to a state of apathy that will drown out the hollow screams of the teething infant with an ear-infection three rows back. [Only joking – As if anything designed for use on an aeroplane is actually designed to lull anyone into a state of anything (i.e. sleep)] — we moved through the gift shop and bunched together with an overly excited group of university students also waiting for the tour to begin.


The first room, wasn’t too interesting. It was a (functioning) replica of the control room used for the first moon landing A380 test flight. By functioning, I mean recorded to sync with the video of the test pilots, by which I mean that when the recording of the test pilots showed the plane bank left the Tom-tom style GPS replica showed a left bank. VeryHighTech

Afterwards there was another mad dash through the rain to the tour bus, built specifically to insure that the adorable little old lady in our care had to take plenty of time getting up the stairs. We being gentlemen, waited until everyone else was on the bus. Waited in the gift shop.
The bus took us through a few security points and then immediately to the closest wharehouse. In front of a row of elevators we received a lecture about where all the parts of the Airbus come from. All of which I have burnt into my memory:

  • Spain   Fore fuselage, rear-fuselage,
  • UK      – Wings
  • France  – Centre fuselage, 
  • Germany – Paintwork, 
  • Mystery Engines (purchased from a third-party – usually RR or IKEA – but installed by Airbus

After an eternity of Pidgin-English the guide finished and the elevator banks opened, flooding us the glorious sound of silence (and just the right amount of elevator jazz). We ascended 4 floors to a much better vantage point (this one actually had a window) and gazed our eyes upon what you might imagine Santa’s workshop to look like. Tiny people in colourful outfits happily going about their work building toys in preparation for Christmas. That is if you’re like me and wrote to Santa every year begging and pleading for the largest available commercial aircraft. No? Well it takes all kinds to make the world, doesn’t it.

The guide invited us to take a step back and look up which revealedd to us previously invisible TV screens (invisible? only possibility: Santa Magic). Which showed a short documentary on how the different parts of the Airbus are  brought together from over Europe. Sounds simple? Think about it, and things start to fall apart:

  • Why not fly them, it’s only a short distance?
    • Well that’s a terrific Idea. In fact, Airbus designed an aeroplane (a hideous thing called the Beluga … eww) specifically for transport parts of their commercial Fleet. It is probably the largest Aeroplane in the world, and the majority of the older Airbus models, as well as a few A380 parts are transported by it.
  • So why aren’t all the A380 parts sent via plane?
  • Well the problem is that the A380 fuselage is roughly the same diameter as the Beluga. So then, why doesn’t Airbus simply build a bigger Cargo transport? Two reasons: Firstly, because for the moment, it’s just too difficult to design an aeroplane any bigger, still capable of flight. Secondly, because of the size of the fuselage needed to accommodate an A380, it would be near impossible to navigate through cities via land (I’ll explain later). The only reasonable way to transport these fuselage parts would be via the air…which would need an even larger fuselage diameter. See where I’m going?
  • Doesn’t Europe have a lot of canals and rivers. Why aren’t the A380 parts just shipped to Toulouse?
  • Well actually, most of it is shipped via the ocean. Unfortunately Toulouse is situated right between the Atlantic ocean and Mediterranean Sea, so everything (except what is delivered by beluga has had to be unloaded at a port, then loaded on a road convoy at some point. As for the Canals, they were constructed mostly too small, with bridges that are too low to accommodate the A380’s massive bust.
  • Ok, so why does Airbus have such a difficult time transporting via Land?
  • Well really, it’s the same problem as with the canals. The cities were built in the middle ages, and somehow Airbus has to navigate through streets barely wide enough for 2-lane traffic. It’s quite an amazing feat; sometimes the convoy can come within centimetres of accommodation. It is usually done at night, but no-one complains – The convoys are said to be almost silent.
  • Surely Airbus could think of a more simple, cost-effective way of transportation.
    • Probably, but at the moment transport makes up only 0.5% of the total production cost
  • Wow Ned, I can’t believe you could remember all that. How do I get to grow up to be smart (and ridiculously good-looking) like you?
  • Trying to find an answer to that question has led to many theories being created, and caused humanity countless religious conflicts trying to prove that their theory is the only correct one. I can’t give an answer to the question, but the truth is that No-one, can know, regardless of rumoured or self-declared divine knowledge.

After that brief saga, we went out to a viewing platform which enabled us to see the other parts of the assembly ground. There was a weather testing station with 6 unpainted (naturally green) A380s waiting to fly to Germany for their paint jobs, some other unimportant Airbus offices, and a large metal building with no roof. When we asked about it, she told us that was where the jet engines were tested. The building was actually just a sound proof wall for protecting the area from excess noise pollution. However, at the time and place, it was particularly cool.

Sadly that was all from Airbus. Hopefully when I post about my holidays, it will be more interesting.


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Two Months In. No Way Out

Well I have been living with my host family now for exactly 2 months, and boy has it been enlightening. I am so used to trying new things now, that even before I do it for the first time, it doesn’t seem entirely new.

Just yesterday I went ice skating for the first time. I remember when I was young I used to get really nervous whenever we did swimming for P.E. It wasn’t because I couldn’t swim – I was just as good as everyone else. What made me nervous was the thought that we might be doing something new, and that I wouldn’t be able to cope with it. Specifically for me it was diving, because somewhere inside my brain there was a self defence mechanism that told my body my body not to through my body headfirst into a pool of water. I knew that if I didn’t judge it perfectly, I could slam my feet into the side of the pool, do a back- or belly-flop (insult to injury), dive too deep and head-butt the bottom of the pool, or worse, I could get water up my nose – And we all know just exactly how painful and humiliating that is. So I still can’t dive. But the difference with me now, is that I can safely say I have matured. I believe that one of the symptoms of maturity is getting to a point in your life when you stop fearing new things. You know you are going to be hurt or humiliated, but you go through with it anyway, for better or worse. My whole experience here has been like that in a way.

Blury, but smiling and somehow upright!

This is where the ice skating comes in. I don’t know if any of you have ever been ice-skating, and if you have I hope for your sake that it was in your glory days, where everything was Hip and society was still the man. Anyway, I new – even before I was on the ice – that this was completely unnatural*, and I was destined to failure. I didn’t know how long it would take me, but the only thing I could be sure of was failure. But I gave it a shot. How does the saying go? ‘when in doubt, follow your nose’? Well I had a hard enough time staying upright, and following anything was way down my list of priorities. But I did it: I stood on ice. I waddled a bit like a duck on ice. Which eventually turned into a kind of walk on ice. Then I kept on doing that until it kind of passed for a glide. Soon I got into a sort of running-glide. Which didn’t last long. I got over-confident and my feet flew out from under me while my arms were flapping and waving around so much I thought I might take off. Sadly, no. And I limped (there’s no word for that particular way of bipedal motion I exhibited) with my tail between my legs and my heart in my hand out of the rink.

I wasn’t nervous before I started because I knew I was destined to failure. But as I sat there by the side of the rink, watching the people glide past me as graceful as birds, I started thinking. One day, centuries ago, someone gave physics the finger, put blades on the bottom of his hiking boots and walked out onto a lake. He didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t know that he could skate, that it was even possible. So with no instruction, and no motivation to get up again, he tried to skate. And he fell, and he kept trying without knowing how long he would have to try until something meaningful happened. Eventually he could skate. He taught his friends and eventually they could skate too. But it was never quite as amazing as the first man to skate. He had no objective. Just a slight idea that might be possible, and a goal to keep trying until something happened.

So that’s what this experience feels like to me. Setting out into a scenario which I know nothing about, and accidentally stumbling onto something incredible. All the while knowing full well that it’s only a matter of time before I slip up. So that’s what I’m doing. And I won’t stop.

I just realised that the whole diving story could be made a lot more dramatic, but you know I’m not an author. Maybe involving ice-skating? It’s just a thought

*I checked the Wikipedia article, and apparently, no-one can explain exactly why skating works. Yet another thing American politics has in common with ice…

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Say cheese!

Well, not saying much but I had a really fun night last night.

We went into toulouse for a soiree at a friend of the family. It was a double birthday, and there was lost of delicious food, cheese, wine and etc.

IMG_0968 Stitch


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