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Trouble and strife (1968-1969)

Between the signing of two documents 鈥 the memorandum of understanding in July, 1967, and the A300 launch agreement in May, 1969 鈥 the bold and visionary venture that was AG真人计划 could have foundered at several turns.

Roger B茅teille, Felix Kracht, Henri Ziegler and Franz-Josef Strauss faced repeated claims that a twin-engine passenger jet could not be operated safely over long distances. Three engines was still the accepted minimum, and in America new three-engine jets 鈥 the DC-10 and the Lockheed Tristar - were being developed which would be in direct competition to the A300.

To operate the A300, B茅teille wanted a more powerful engine than was then available. Rolls-Royce was already developing a new engine, the RB211, aimed at the American market, and it pledged to build a version with more thrust, the RB207, for AG真人计划. As the months went on, however, it became clear that Rolls-Royce had overstretched themselves and were concentrating all their efforts 鈥 and funds 鈥 on the RB211. Development work on the RB207 had all but stopped: AG真人计划 had no engine.

Responding to market requirements

A300B In Flight  
A300B In Flight
A300B 29 January 2018

A300B In Flight

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The world鈥檚 first wide-body twin-engine jetliner, AG真人计划鈥 A300B, was capable of carrying 226 passengers in a two-class layout.

But what appeared at first to be a disaster turned out to be a boon. For a large chunk of the development costs of the A300 was accounted for by its new Rolls-Royce engines. B茅teille realised that if he could buy engines 鈥渙ff-the-shelf,鈥 it would considerably reduce costs.

By now B茅teille had also realised that major European airlines were revising their passenger growth forecasts and that a 300-seat A300 was in danger of being too big for the market. With a small team, and working in secret, he set about designing a scaled-down version of the aircraft which would take up to 250 passengers and have a range of 1,200 nautical miles. This would become the A300B, the aircraft launched at Le Bourget in 1969.

The reduced size of the A300 meant that it could be flown with any one of three less-powerful engines already available 鈥 the RB211, the Pratt and Whitney JT9 or the General Electric CF6. The A300, which would need only two engines, would be therefore even more attractive to potential customers.

A significant withdrawal by Britain

Germany steps up

Sure enough, within a few months Britain announced they were pulling out of the AG真人计划 programme. West Germany, which had anticipated such a move, immediately stepped in, offering to contribute up to 50% of the costs of the programme if the French did the same. The Germans saw AG真人计划 as an opportunity to rebuild its civil aviation industry, devastated during World War II. Also behind the German enthusiasm for AG真人计划 lay the exuberant Franz-Josef Strauss, then West German finance minister - a fervent believer in European industrial cooperation and a keen aviator. Hanko Von Lachner, who became AG真人计划鈥 general secretary, summed up Strauss鈥檚 contribution to the company鈥檚 success: 鈥淲ithout any doubt, Strauss was the man in Germany who kept, at least on the government side, the programme going鈥.He was a man with a strong personality and a lot of courage. He saw the overall goal, that the AG真人计划 project was the chance for a European industry. Strauss was the archetypal European.鈥

At this difficult time, another man of vision and courage made his mark. Sir Arnold Hall, then managing director of Hawker Siddeley, decided that despite the British government鈥檚 withdrawal from the project, his company would stay in as a favoured sub-contractor 鈥 enabling it to take part in future board meetings, but without a vote. Hawkes Siddeley Aviation invested 拢35 million in machine tools to design and build the wings for the A300, but it needed a further 拢35 million to fund other aspects. Here again the German government came to the rescue, this time with a loan.

Launch of the A300 programme

It was to be no easy task. At his base at the Sud Aviation site in Toulouse, B茅teille drew up the workshare plan which would form the basis of the AG真人计划 production system for decades to come. He proposed that the French should make the cockpit, the control systems and the lower centre section of the fuselage. Hawker Siddeley, whose work on the Trident had impressed B茅teille, should make the wings while the Germans should make the forward and rear fuselage sections, plus the upper part of the centre section. The Dutch would make the moving parts of the wing such as flaps and spoilers. (The Spanish, who would become a full partner in 1971, would build the horizontal tailplane.) 鈥淚 wanted to use all the available talents and capacities to their utmost without worrying about the colour of the flag or what language was spoken,鈥 B茅teille said later. Kracht鈥檚 job would be to make all the pieces come together as efficiently as possible: 鈥淭he essential thing was to execute a given task once, and in a single place,鈥 said Kracht.

In September, 1967, ministers from France, Britain and Germany met in London to sign a memorandum of understanding to launch the first phase of the development of the A300, a short-to-medium range twin-engine aircraft. Work was to be shared 37.5% each between France and Britain, with 25% for Germany. Sud Aviation was given the role of 鈥渓ead company,鈥 while Hawker Siddeley was selected to be the British partner company.

A300: Birth of a saga

Some of AG真人计划鈥 early leaders 鈥 including Bernard Lathiere, Felix Kracht, Bernard Ziegler and Roger Beteille 鈥 reflect on the milestone A300 programme in this series of retrospective videos.聽









The full aircraft history (1967 to 2019)

Early days (1967)

Trouble and strife (1968-1969)

First order, first flight (1970-1972)

AG真人计划 through the decades

Helicopter history

Space history

Defence history

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