Pond Hopping in an A330 – What Would the Wright Brothers Think?

10:31 AM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

(Somewhere Over the North Atlantic – April 23) I am resting comfortably on my lay-flat business class seat in Lufthansa’s flight 481 - Denver to Munich. We’re in an Airbus A330-300, making over 600 miles per hour somewhere up in the flight levels near the southern tip of Greenland. I’m on my way to the EU – Paris, Loire Valley and Budapest, Hungary – and if you have to spend 10 hours in a pressurized tube, this is the way to fly.

What makes this particular flight that much more amusing to me as a certified #Avgeek is that I am reading David McCollough’s very fine NYT bestselling book The Wright Brothers. The juxtaposition of reading that book on this flight cannot be ignored. It makes me wonder what Orville and Wilbur would think of blasting across the sky at near supersonic speeds while being pampered in the pressurized comfort of the business class cabin. This topic must be explored in a deep dive, so I’m going in…

After blasting off from Denver, we’ve followed the planned Great Circle routing that takes us up over the Great Lakes region (Hello Oshkosh!) and over Nova Scotia and Greenland before entering EU airspace and descending into Flughafen München. Hop on another pressurized tube, and in a few short hours, I will be in London’s Heathrow Airport to meet back up with my wife, Julie Celeste, before we hop the last pressurized tube of the day, a quick Air France flight to Paris for two nights.
Back in 1903 when Orville and Wilbur Wright used good old American determination and imagination to figure out how to make a powered airplane fly for the first time, getting from Eugene, Oregon to Paris, France would have taken quite a bit longer. After a train ride across the United States that could easily be 10 days, you’d board a giant steam ship for the slow excursion across the Atlantic. Most oceangoing ships of the day were slow pigs, but there were a few that were hot rods by comparison…from Wikipedia:

The record of 5 days, 17 hours, 8 minutes was set in 1897 for an Atlantic crossing from New York City to Southampton, England by the steamer Kaiser Wilhelm of the North German Lloyd Line, with the best hourly average of the ship being 22.6 knots an hour.

So from the Pacific Northwest to Paris, if all things went as planned – no train robbers or icebergs to contend with – you could expect this journey to take just under three weeks. My journey on three airplanes with layovers, WX delays or the infamous maintenance issue is about 23 hours, 48 minutes(ish).

In the 114 years since the Wrights flew their Flyer 120 feet in 12 seconds at a speed of only 6.8 miles per hour over the ground on December 17, 1903, aviation has progressed in ways these Dayton brothers could have never dreamed up, despite being exceptional dreamers. Their successful first flight was what happens when good people with great technical minds refuse to stop asking “what if?”
As each decade passed after that historic morning at Kitty Hawk, aerospace engineers have made a continuous march to go farther, fly higher, soar faster and carry more at lower costs per seat/mile. The DC-3 was the industry standard before Boeing’s 747 re-defined what jet air travel can be. Now as the 747s are very close to flying under the aviation version of the Rainbow Bridge into retirement. It will be a sad day for #avgeeks everywhere when the last “Queen of the Skies” is put out to pasture.

I was hoping to draw “four-seven” for this eastbound flight, but am on an Airbus A330 instead. I guess it’s like Mac vs PC or low-wings vs high ones, but I just prefer Boeing airplanes…always have since my first flight on a 707 out of KFAT (Fresno Air Terminal). Maybe it’s that each model is different in design, so it’s impossible to confuse a 777 with a 737. To me, all Airbuses except the A380 look pretty much the same from 50 paces away.
If you have to fly for 10 hours across oceans, do it in business class. And if you can, do it on Lufthansa, one of my favorite lines. Here’s a straight up honest review of seat 11A on LH481 DEN-MUC:

This A330-300 is being blasted through the sky with a very large pair of engines - either Pratt and Whitney PW4000s, General Electric GE CF6-80E1s or Trent 700s from Rolls-Royce. Without asking them to pop the cowls so I can study the data plate, I can’t know for sure of the power this evening, only that these are really BIG engines. These are the kind of engines that will easily haul as many as 440 pax (in full-on cattle car configuration) across the nasty North Atlantic when one of the two engines buys the farm and requires a shut-down. This is ETOPS flying at it’s finest.
If someone can find faults with this airplane’s business class seat, they would have had to be looking very hard, because I am traveling in luxury usually reserved for royalty…kings, queens, dashing young princes and the occasional frozen Princess. I’m surrounded by fairly high tech, with all the outlets, USB sockets, audio-visual and seat controls exactly where you expect them to be when you move your hand. This is what you get when Lufthansa’s cabin completions team puts some German engineering in the sky. It makes you want to climb a Bavarian mountain and shout “So soll das Fliegen sein!” because this is how flying was meant to be.
Not long into the flight, dinner is served, and no, it is not Pretzels. This is real food, on real plates being eaten by real silverware, and cleanup comes with real cloth napkins. Lufthansa does an incredible job at in-flight catering, and the meal would have been worth real money at a fancy restaurant. The meal is served with the kind of precision you’d expect from a German airline, with the team of flight attendants staying tuned in to every need of every passenger in the business class cabin.

Overall, this flight has been incredible on so many levels, especially as I read about the struggles and challenges that Orville and Wilbur had to overcome just to fly a slow, barely-maneuverable box kite with a small clunker of a motor a few feet. They got this aviation train rolling, and decades of aerospace engineers have improved on their idea.

I made it to Paris, after running the multiple gauntlets of Heathrow Airport. It is insane how far you have to schlepp your stuff to get from “A” to “B” there. And in a few days, I will be headed home, but with a serious airplane upgrade thanks to Lufthansa. That Frankfurt to Denver leg will be business class in a Boeing 747-400 and I am stoked to give the Queen one last goodbye. Since the airlines are phasing them out, I expect this will be my last flight in a “four-seven” and you can be damned sure I’m going to enjoy the ride and will be writing about it here soon.

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