The Airbus A300 was the first airliner developed and built by Airbus Industrie, a consortium of European aircraft manufacturers formed in 1970. It was also Europe's first widebody airliner and the world's first twin-engine widebody. The aircraft is intended for short to medium-range flights and seats 250 to 300 passengers.
Plans for the development of a European widebody aircraft emerged during the mid-1960s. In November 1965 the British and the French governments outlined a specification for a 200-225 passenger aircraft with 30 per cent lower operating costs than those of the Boeing 727-100. In 1966 American Airlines issued a specification for a 250 to 300 seat twin-engine widebody airliner to replace Boeing 727s on short and medium-range flights. Several designs appeared on the drawing boards of European aircraft manufacturers. Hawker Siddeley, Breguet and Nord Aviation proposed the HBN-100, a widebody aircraft with two engines under the wing and seating 225-261 passengers. Sud Aviation and Dassault in France designed the 'Galion', which looked much like the HBN-100, and British Aircraft Corporation proposed the BAC Three-Eleven, a widebody with its two engines mounted at the rear of the fuselage.
The governments chose the HBN-100 for further development, but Sud Aviation was chosen as partner by the French government instead of Nord, because Sud already had experience with international cooperation in the Concorde supersonic transport project. In September 1966 Hawker and Sud started talks with German manufacturers, which cooperated in Deutsche Airbus GmbH.
On 26 September 1967, the British, French, and German governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding about starting the development of the 300-seat Airbus A300. France was granted the design leadership on the British condition that the aircraft would be powered by the new Rolls-Royce RB.207 engine. However, this engine was actually too powerful for the A300. To make a better match between aircraft and engine, the A300 grew to well over 300 seats, but for most of the airlines such an aircraft was too big.
After McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed launched the DC-10 and TriStar respectively, Rolls-Royce cancelled the RB.207 and started the development of the lighter RB.211 instead, which was chosen by Lockheed for the TriStar. This was also a more suitable engine for a smaller European widebody twin. The design was subsequently scaled down to 'A250' for around 250 passengers, later named 'A300B'. Because airlines still showed little interest, the British withdrew from the project in Spring 1969. The remaining partners now dropped the RB.211 in favour of the General Electric CF6-50 to make the aircraft more attractive to airlines which had ordered the CF6-powered Boeing 747 and/or the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30.
In December 1970 the consortium Airbus Industrie was officially set up by Aérospatiale (the result of a merger between Sud Aviation and Nord Aviation) and Deutsche Airbus. In spite of the British withdrawal, Hawker Siddeley stayed partner in the project and became responsible for the design and production of the wings. CASA of Spain and Fokker-VFW of The Netherlands soon joined the initiative.
The final assembly line was set up in Toulouse, France, and the production work was divided between the partners. The A300B became a very modern state-of-the art design. The cabin has an eight-abreast economy class configuration, although some charter airlines fly it nine abreast. The fuselage width was chosen wide enough to accommodate two side by side rows of standard LD3 cargo containers in the belly cargo compartment. These containers were also used in the American widebodies, the 747, DC-10 and TriStar.
The first of two A300B1 prototypes flew on 28 October 1972, from Toulouse in France (Photo: Airbus). The first production version, the A300B2, entered service with Air France in May 1974 (Photo: Airbus). The A300B2 was soon followed by the A300B4 with increased weights and a reinforced wing and fuselage. Airbus also built some A300C convertible aircraft, suitable for both cargo and passenger operations.
The A300 had a slow sales start in the depressed economic environment of the early 1970s. It also had to overcome doubts about the safety of an aircraft with only two engines in one-engine-off conditions. The breakthrough came with a trial lease of four A300s by the US carrier Eastern Airlines in August 1977. Eastern, one of the big four US airlines at that time, needed an aircraft bigger than the Boeing 727 but smaller, lighter and more economical to operate on short flights than its Lockheed TriStars. The airline became very satisfied about the qualities of the A300. It kept the leased aircraft in service and ordered nineteen new aircraft and took options on a further nine. After this major deal more airlines ordered the widebody twin, especially airlines in the Far East.
- A300-600 -
In 1984 Airbus switched production to the much improved A300-600, with increased range and a two-crew digital EFIS flight deck. The cabin volume of the A300-600 grew a little by applying the A310's more efficiently designed tail empennage. The A300-600 flew for the first time on 8 July 1983.
A further improved version is the A300-600R, with extended range by the application of a fuel tank in the tailplane. The A300-600R first flew on 9 December 1987. It was followed by the A300-600F freighter which made its maiden flight in December 1993. During the last years of production most A300s were delivered as freighters to Federal Express (FedEx) and United Parcel Service (UPS).
- Beluga -
A very special version is the A300-600ST Super Transporter 'Beluga' (Photo: Airbus), which first flew on 13 September 1994. This awkward looking aircraft is specially developed to carry large aircraft parts like wings and fuselage sections from Airbus partner factories to the final assembly line in Toulouse, France. The Beluga is the successor of the Super Guppy, which performed the task of bringing subassemblies together during the first years of the consortium's existence. The Super Guppy was based on the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.
The Beluga's cargo hold is 7.4 m (24 ft 3 in) wide and it has a large upward opening front cargo door for easy loading. To make space for this door, the cockpit was moved down to below the level of the cargo floor. Other changes are a larger tail and the addition of extra vertical stabilizers to the tailplane. Airbus built five Beluga's. Although they are primarily intended for Airbus-work, they also operate charter flights on behalf of other customers. From 2019 they are to be succeeded by new Beluga aircraft based on the A330.
A total of 561 Airbus A300 aircraft of all versions have been built, plus five Beluga's. The production ended in July 2007 with delivery of the last aircraft to Federal Express. Early in 2015 around 200 A300s are still in airline service. Many of them are cargo airplanes of the 600 version, including ex-passenger aircraft converted into freighters.
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