Airbus A350, the newest aircraft from the European planemaker, has taken off on its maiden test flight.
The Airbus A350 is designed to be more fuel-efficient, and a direct competitor to US rival Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
It is seen as vital to the future of Airbus, which competes with Boeing to supply the majority of the world’s airlines with new planes.
It took off from Blagnac airstrip in the French city of Toulouse, where the A350 is assembled, on Friday morning.
The plane will take a short four-hour trip to carry out tests, and then land back at Toulouse.
Boeing’s Dreamliner has proved popular since its first flight in 2009, despite recently being grounded by regulators over safety fears relating to its batteries.
Airlines are being squeezed by high fuel costs and falling passenger numbers, and are looking for more fuel-efficient aircraft.
Airbus A350, the newest aircraft from the European planemaker, has taken off on its maiden test flight
Airbus claims the A350, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, will use about 25% less fuel than previous generation wide-bodied aircraft.
Like the Dreamliner, the A350 is made largely of advanced materials, particularly carbon composites, in order to save weight.
Airbus has already taken more than 600 orders for the new plane, whereas there have been 890 Dreamliner orders so far.
The company hopes to start delivering the first A350s to customers by the end of 2014.
Analysts say a successful test flight would be a major milestone for Airbus in the A350 project, with major aircraft manufacturing projects frequently beset by delays.
“All recent programmes before it, both by Airbus, Boeing and others, have had reasonably horrendous technical problems and delays,” said Nick Cunningham, an aviation analyst at the London-based Agency Partners, speaking to French agency AFP.
“So every time you hit a milestone [such as a test flight], it’s good news because it means that you’ve missed an opportunity to have another big delay.”
The wings of A350 were designed at an Airbus facility in Filton near Bristol, and are manufactured at Broughton in Wales.
The US Air Force has announced that an attempt to fly its hypersonic jet X-51A WaveRider at Mach 6 (3,600 mph; 5795 km/h) has failed.
The unmanned aircraft had been designed to fly at six times the speed of sound after being dropped from a B-52 bomber.
But officials said that a faulty control fin prevented it from starting its supersonic-combustion ramjet engine, and the craft was lost.
It marks the second time in a row that the Air Force has been unable to test the technology as planned.
The US Air Force has announced that an attempt to fly its hypersonic jet X-51A WaveRider at Mach 6 (3,600 mph; 5795 km/h) has failed
The latest attempt had sought to fly at its maximum speed for five minutes.
But a spokesman said that a problem was recognized 16 seconds after a rocket booster was triggered to increase its velocity, ahead of the scramjet engine being started.
When the rocket unit detached 15 seconds later X-51A WaveRider lost control and broke apart, falling into the Pacific Ocean north-west of Los Angeles.
“It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the scramjet engine,” Charlie Brink, of the Air Force Research Laboratory at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, said in a statement.
“All our data showed we had created the right conditions for engine ignition and we were very hopeful to meet our test objectives.”
The previous test aircraft was also lost to the Pacific after it was unable to restart its engine.
But the original test flight, in 2010, flew at five times the speed of sound for three minutes.
The Pentagon – which helped fund the project – has been testing hypersonic technologies in an effort to develop faster missiles.
It has also been suggested the research could eventually help build a commercial plane with the promise of London to New York trips taking as little as an hour, or Tokyo to Paris journeys slightly more than double that time.
For now only one X-51A vehicle remains and the Air Force has not yet decided whether to organize a fourth test.
Hypersonic jet X-51A WaveRider has been tested by US military in a bid to reach Mach 6 (4,300 mph; 6,900 km/h) above the Pacific Ocean.
At that speed it could travel from London to New York in about an hour. Results from the test flight have not yet been released.
The Pentagon and NASA hope to use the project to develop faster missiles.
During a test in June 2011, WaveRider travelled at Mach 5, but failed to reach the target speed.
It is one of several projects currently under way to create a hypersonic aircraft.
The research could also be used to build a commercial plane, able to reach much higher speeds than today’s jets, after Concorde was decommissioned in 2003.
Hypersonic jet X-51A WaveRider has been tested by US military in a bid to reach Mach 6 (4,300 mph; 6,900 km/h) above the Pacific Ocean
The military intended to use a B-52 bomber to lift the wingless unmanned jet from US Edwards Air Force Base in California to 50,000 feet (15,250m).
The craft was then to be dropped and after a free fall of about four seconds, its engine is supposed to ignite.
X-51A WaveRider was then expected to climb to 70,000 ft (21,300 m) and eventually reach Mach 6.
The Mach number is the ratio of the speed of an object to the speed of sound. Mach 1 is the speed of sound – approximately 768 mph, depending on various factors including temperature and altitude.
So Mach 6 is six times the speed of sound. Concorde’s cruising speed was Mach 2 – it flew from London to New York in just over three hours.
The WaveRider test flight was expected to last for about five minutes before the craft falls into the Pacific.
The test is essentially a repeat of last summer’s attempt, when the hypersonic aircraft reached Mach 5, but the engine failed to attain full power.
Military officials said the results would be available later on Wednesday.
European aerospace and defense giant EADS believes that hypersonic passenger flights are likely to appear in the near future. In 2011, EADS presented its own concept of a commercial high-speed aircraft designed to fly at Mach 4.
“The business community who wanted to be in New York in three hours made Concorde highly viable, and now there’s interest on both sides of the Atlantic to jump a generation and go from supersonic flight to hypersonic flight,” said EADS’ vice-president of business development, Peter Robbie.
“Such an aircraft will be very expensive, of course, because of the enormous amounts of energy that is required to get to such speeds.
“But the idea of going from Tokyo to Paris in two-and-a-half hours is very attractive for the business and political community – and I think that by about 2050, there may be a viable commercial aircraft.”
In August 2011, US military scientists attempted to get another unmanned hypersonic experimental aircraft to reach Mach 20 – 20 times the speed of sound.
However, they lost contact with the Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) after it had separated from its rocket.