by Courtesy Airbus S.A.S./ e’m company/H. Gouss; background photograph: Gregor Halenda

The biggest airliner ever built takes flight
When the first Airbus A380 made its maiden flight from Toulouse, France, on April 27, it launched a new age in long-distance air travel. The top-shelf airlines first in line to purchase it-Singapore, Emirates, Virgin-will use the enormous jet’s roomy two-story cabin to pamper around 118 business- and first-class travelers while packing as many as 437 passengers in coach to hold down fares. (All-coach versions could hold up to 800 passengers.) The A380 is half as loud as the smaller Boeing 747-bigger fans on the engines, which generate up to 72,000 pounds of thrust each, slow down noisy exhaust air without diminishing power. The airplane also uses lightweight materials on an unprecedented scale. Carbon-fiber composites, titanium, and aluminum and fiberglass laminates replace steel throughout the airframe. The wing is sculpted for maximum efficiency, with a cross-section that changes continuously from root to tip (other wings are shaped in sections). The final advance: reliability. The jet has so many backup systems that Airbus claims it will almost never have to divert for mechanical failures.