Tin Can Robot

Debugging the A350

In this day and age, most airline jets are a massively complicated bundle of multiple hardware and software systems, built by different subcontractors that must all work together flawlessly. How do you reduce the risk and (more importantly) the cost of testing a jet?

As with any new plane, the early design phases were riddled with uncertainty. Would the materials be light enough and strong enough? Would the components perform as Airbus desired? Would parts fit together? Would it fly the way simulations predicted? To produce a working aircraft, Airbus had to systematically eliminate those risks using a process it calls a “testing pyramid.” The fat end of the pyramid represents the beginning, when everything is unknown. By testing materials, then components, then systems, then the aircraft as a whole, ever-greater levels of complexity can be tamed. “The idea is to answer the big questions early and the little questions later,” says Stefan Schaffrath, Airbus’s vice president for media relations.