Part Three of Crossing the Pond: A380 vs. 747-800i

9:07 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

(Editor's note: In part one of this series, I brought you inside one of Lufthansa's gorgeous Airbus A380 Superjumbos as I traveled eastbound to vacation in the EU. You rode with me in part two as we returned to the Lower 48 inside the newest Boeing 747-800i in the Lufthansa fleet. Now, I'll bring this series to a close...enjoy! - av8rdan)

I don't remember the precise date when I fell in love with flying, but I sure know the year, the place and the circumstances involved. It was 1966, and I was a curious 10-year-old living under the departure path of the Fresno Air Terminal...known as FAT. And yes, it was not an urban myth that more than a few passengers throught the airline was making a judgement on their weight when they first saw that troublesome baggage tag placed on their Samsonites. It's a Fresno thing, like Dancing Raisins, "hardtop" racing at Kearney Bowl, dragging Belmont and cruising for girls at Mars Drive-in.

KFAT, as it's known now, was a 30-minute ride away on my Schwinn Sting Ray bike. I could be found there quite a bit - you guessed it - hanging on the airport fence...literally. There was a midget racing track off the approach to 29L in those days, and it made a nice place for a kid to gaze skyward as Cessnas floated by and National Guard Delta Darts screamed back to base. But nothing compared to the real prize, a big, multi-engine airliner:

In our garage, we had a stylish old Zenith all-band radio that when tuned to the proper frequency, allowed ATC from FAT to boom out of its oversize speaker. On most any day, I could listen for the rare scheduled flights I knew were flown by big jet airliners. These ships was big, loud and each time one climbed out over my house, I could almost feel my soul being sucked up into the sky to be transformed into that of an aviator.
In 1970, my family flew via puddle jumper out of FAT to SFO before taking the flight of my lifetime to Seattle via a big United jet airliner. When I returned from that incredible flight, I typed out a personal letter of thanks, and addressed to the President of United Airlines. An 14-year-old's compliments might go unnoticed in today's corporate world, but a month later, I received a package in the mail. It included a personal letter from the President of the line, and included a brochure and actual 8 x 10 glossy black and white photos of the newest thing on Boeing's showroom floor, the mighty 747 Jumbo Jet. That was when I knew I had to fly in a four-seven. Little did I know it would take 42 years to get 'er done.

So as I returned from the EU in Lufthansa's newest 747-800i (for Intercontinental), I tried to compare it to the behemoth Airbus A380 that delivered me to Europe 15 days prior. Let's peruse my brain and glimpse some of my random thoughts on these two ships:

Design: The A380's clean sheet design is loaded with composites, and is one of the most innovative airplanes ever to carry passengers. It was like nothing before it, but was still a very new ship. In contrast, the 747 is a mature airliner design, and has proven beyond any doubt that it can carry lots of people and stuff a long ways for a profit to its operator.

Comfort: I flew Lufthansa's incredible Business Class in both directions, which is lavish and perfect in my opinion. I could not ask for better service. The almost-lay-flat seats in the A380 were Lufthansa's Biz Class v1.0, and while filled with technology, remained at enough of a downward angle on "lay flat" mode to allow me to slip into the foot well. In the 787-800i, Lufthansa has re-designed the seating arrangement so that the "lay flat" seats do just that, and it was just a better way to sleep off another fantastic Lufthansa meal. Both airplanes score well in the areas of ambiance, lighting, and fresh air, but due to the -800i's Biz Class v2.0 seating, I give the advantage - only slightly - to the 747.

Flight and Ground Characteristics: O.K., I'm not going to make anyone think I actually flew either of these airplanes. My comments come solely from being a passenger, but one that is also a pilot. When we pilots fly, we notice things. On the ground, the A380 seemed to taxi very slow, and sort of waddled along, like an elephant that had consumed too many Martinis. I tried to capture video of the launch out of KSFO on the LCD screen in front of me that was showing the picture from a camera mounted at the very top of the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer. But when the Pilot Flying poured on the coals, the airplane bounced around so much, all I captured was a blurry mess. I've never flown on an airliner that was such a joy to finally have depart the runway. Once in the air, the three-eighty was a smooth, stable, comfortable ride for the next 9:30 to Frankfurt.

The 747-800i, was, in contrast, as predictable as I had expected coming out of FRA - smooth and purposeful on taxi, and equally smooth on takeoff. But while the A380 seemed to take the length of 600 football fields to rotate, the four-seven was off the ground before it seemed to be moving at sufficient velocity – as if it wanted to fly, not being coaxed to fly. Once off the ground though, the 747 seemed more nimble in the air, and just off the runway, the pilot cranked it hard into a non-standard turn that the "seat of the pants" flyer in me said seemed more 737 than Jumbo Jet.
With all I can find as evidence, I think the Boeing 747-800i was just a better ride from my vantage point in the luxury of Lufthansa's Business Class cabin. This is not to 'dis the Airbus, it is a big, competent, efficient hauler. But having been a Boeing fan all my aviation life (46 years and counting), I do not hesitate to give the Airplanista "Giant Airplane of the Century" Award to the Boeing.

            That is, until I finally get to ride inside the 787 Dreamliner.

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