Airbus put one of its A350 test planes on display at the Singapore Airshow this week, giving journalists and officials a look inside the new fuel-efficient, extra wide bodied passenger jet. For now, only crew and mechanics are allowed aboard while the plane is in flight
On display for the first time at an airshow, the brand new extra wide bodied passenger jet has been one of the Singapore Airshow's major attention grabbers.(CNN) -- To fully appreciate all the A350 XWB promises to offer, your imagination needs to take a rather giant leap.
Flying high above the Changi Exhibition Centre, it looks sleek and maneuverable.
It's a big draw, part of the airshow's static display sitting beside its key competitor, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.
But step on board, and it's unlike any other experience on a passenger jet, because the A350 is still a test aircraft.
Packed with flight testing gear, including the equivalent of 400 kilometers of bright orange testing cables, every nuance of what happens when the plane is in the air is captured by equipment that feeds data live to Airbus' headquarters in Toulouse.
Some 600,000 parameters can be monitored and recorded at any one time as part of that testing.
Large water tanks under the floor are filled to the exact weight the aircraft will carry when it's full of passengers and baggage.
The A350 first took to the skies on June 14 last year. Soon after, it performed a fly-by at the Paris Airshow.
So far two test planes have clocked 1,000 hours of flying time, some in extreme conditions.
To date the A350 has experienced the cold of northern Canada and the high altitude of La Paz in Bolivia. In the next few weeks it will also conduct tests in the stifling heat of the Middle East.
All five test A350s will have to fly for 2,500 hours before achieving certification.
This is a passenger jet made up of 53% composite material according to Simon Azar from the Airbus Marketing Division, the highest of any commercial aircraft.
This allows the A350 to travel as fuel efficiently as possible, lowering operating costs.
The wings of the jet incorporate the jet maker's latest aerodynamics and advanced low-speed controls. The curled winglets are designed to reduce drag, again saving fuel.
Essentially the plane will fly further for less, to help offset the high cost of buying the aircraft, which has a list price of $254 million-322 million depending on size.
Also adding to the customer experience, Airbus says, are the A350's low noise levels. This airplane has already been nicknamed by some as the "Hushliner," a title Airbus has embraced.
"The noise levels for the aircraft are going to be very low," says Azar. "It's designed to be a very quiet aircraft both in the cabin and for surrounding space as the aircraft flies around. That's very important. Noise pollution around airports is something that we work to reduce."
Airbus also says its custom Rolls Royce engine is unrivaled in terms of fuel efficiency, and contributes to the aircraft achieving a 25% reduction in seat-mile costs and 25% lower carbon dioxide emissions.
For passengers, Airbus says it's offering great quality air (replaced on the aircraft every two to three minutes), wider cabins and 18-inch-wide seats in economy.
When carrying 315 passengers this plane can travel 7,800 nautical miles, or an equivalent 17 hours, useful when research suggests passengers of the future will be flying for longer.
The twin aisle jet can carry between 250 and 400 passengers.
It's designed to have an economy class carrying nine abreast, but the A350 will come in three sizes, the A350-800, A350-900 and A350-1000, and can be configured to seat passengers from eight to 10 abreast.
It'll be up to the customer airlines to choose the mode of inflight entertainment.
Business class passengers will experience all the perks, with Airbus promising mood lighting and the option for full flat seats. First class can be fitted at the customer airline's discretion.
It's a lot to get your head around when you look at the airplane as it is today.
"Flight crew class" is what Azar laughingly calls the 50 odd well-worn gray seats the jet is currently fitted with, all recovered from old aircraft. For now, these are strictly reserved for crew and mechanics during test flights, but that will change.
The first fit-out of an A350 with a proper cabin is expected next month.
VIPs and media only
The A350 arrived in Singapore shortly before the airshow started. Only a select few have been allowed inside, including aviation journalists and VIP visitors, including Britain's Undersecretary of State for Transport Stephen Hammond.
On Thursday the plane is due to fly 13 hours back to Toulouse, where rigorous tests will continue until the plane is ready to go to market.
Airbus says it expects that to be in the fourth quarter of this year.
Its debut customer, Qatar Airways, has ordered 80 of the aircraft.
Airbus has a backlog of orders for 814 A350 jets, from 39 customers, almost a third of which are from the Asia Pacific region.
Spike Aerospace is building what it hopes will be the world's first supersonic business jet, one capable of traveling at Mach 1.8. The S-512, expected to launch in 2018, could cut travel time in half.
The future of supersonic flight
(CNN) -- Concorde is a thing of the past, but a number of companies are racing to release the first supersonic business jet.
Aerion Corporation is working on a jet that would reach Mach 1.6 and would possibly be ready for release by 2020, while Spike Aerospace has announced plans for the S-512, a business jet that could travel at speeds of Mach 1.8 and would be available by 2018. So why has it taken nearly 50 years to revisit the concept?
According to Vik Kachoria, president and CEO of Spike Aerospace, one of the main issues that plagued the Concorde was the sonic boom -- the disruptive noise that results from the shockwaves created when an object travels faster than the speed of sound.
"At its worst, the sonic boom would sound like a loud thunder clap over your head. It would rattle windows and loosen roof tiles. It was pretty jarring. If you lived under the Concorde's flight path, you might hear it several times a day," he says.
The effect was so disturbing that most countries either banned supersonic flights, or restricted them from traveling over land. Understandably, this is an issue that the aerospace industry has needed to address in order to make supersonic flight viable.
A plane without windows?
Kachoria notes that currently, it makes more sense to develop supersonic business jets than larger commercial aircraft, because the plane's diminutive size results in a smaller boom.
While he's remained tight-lipped about many aspects of the design (some are still awaiting patent), he recently announced that the S-512 will be built without windows (except for the one the pilots see out of), a feature that will reduce drag and overall cost of the unit.
"Even at subsonic speeds, windows add a tremendous cost to the aircraft because the fuselage has to be designed to support those windows. If you eliminate all that, you create piece with less structural issues, less manufacturing costs, and less parts count," he says.
It sounds like a claustrophobe's nightmare, though Kachoria has attempted to compensate for the windowless design by installing flatscreens, which can either display the view outside, or can be used to show a movie or PowerPoint presentation -- should a conference need to take place in the air.
"It's not a new concept, but in the past we didn't have the technology -- the flatscreens, or digital cameras to capture the resolution, or the ability to stitch together cameras to create a seamless panoramic view," he says.
Overall, the saving in manufacturing means each unit will cost between $60 million to $80 million.
It's all in the wing
According to Aerion, the main detriment to producing a supersonic aircraft in the near future isn't the boom (an issue even Kachoria admits is still another 15 years or so from being fully resolved), but the cost.
"The reasons speeds haven't changed much since the 1960s has more to do with economics than technology. You just can't have supersonic travel at the rock-bottom fares most passengers prefer" says Jeff Miller, the director of communications for Aerion.
"Those constraints don't apply to business jets, so it's most likely supersonic technology will be applied there first. Even so, economy of operation is important, mainly in terms of fuel efficiency. If you can't find a way to reduce fuel consumption, you won't have a supersonic jet that will get you very far," he adds.
When the Concorde slowed down to below Mach 1, it burned though more fuel. Aerion has been researching ways to compensate this with the development of the supersonic natural laminar flow (SNLF) wing, which it has been testing in conjunction with NASA.
The wing, which is thinner and shorter than typical plane wings, has been proven to reduce friction drag by 80%, and overall airframe drag by 20%.
"The more drag, the more power required to push a wing through the air," explains Miller.
While work is being done on the sonic boom issue, neither Aerion nor Spike expect to release a jet before it's resolved completely. The early models will likely only be able to reach high speeds when traveling over seas.
"We don't have the sonic boom issue resolved yet," admits Kachoria, "you wouldn't be able to fly above Mach 1 between New York and Los Angeles, for instance. But between Tokyo and LA? You'd see a big time savings."
Pretoria, South Africa (CNN) -- Prosecutors trying to prove that "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius deliberately killed his girlfriend are set to build on their case Wednesday that the two had a loud argument on Valentine's Day last year shortly before the fatal shooting.
Neighbors of the once-glamorous couple have been testifying to hearing shouts from his house before a series of gunshots at around 3 a.m. on the day that model Reeva Steenkamp died.
The first witness, Michelle Burger, called the screams "petrifying" and broke down in tears on the stand Tuesday, saying: "It was awful to hear the shots."
Her husband Charl Johnson was on the stand Tuesday as the day's hearing ended, and is expected to continue testifying Wednesday.
The list of 107 potential witnesses includes a blood-spatter expert, police, ambulance drivers, neighbors and relatives of Pistorius and Steenkamp, as well as some of their former lovers.
Pistorius admits he killed Steenkamp, but says that he mistakenly believed he was shooting a burglar. The verdict will hinge on whether the judge believes him, and on whether she believes that his mistake was reasonable.
He pleaded not guilty when the trial opened on Monday.
Defense attorney Barry Roux has been assiduously poking holes in the testimony of the two witnesses he has cross-examined so far.
He was particularly effective in casting doubt on Michelle Burger's claim to have heard a panic-stricken woman screaming in fear for her life before four gunshots rang out.
"We know Reeva was in the toilet. We know it was locked," he said. "You could hear increased fear, anxiety? ... You heard that out of a closed toilet in a house 177 meters away?" he demanded.
Burger said that was correct. Roux said the defense had tested it and it was impossible.
A second witness, another of Pistorius' neighbors, told the court Tuesday she also was awoken by shouting on the night Steenkamp was killed.
In brief testimony, Estelle van der Merwe said she heard loud voices that went on for about an hour and put a pillow over her head to try to get back to sleep. She said she heard four sounds but could not be sure what they were.
Burger's husband, Johnson, was the third witness to take to the stand before the court adjourned for the day. Describing what he heard from his home that night, he said the "intensity and fear in (the woman's) voice escalated and it was clear that her life was in danger."
"That's when the first shots were fired. I remember hearing a succession of shots," Johnson said. "I heard the lady scream again and the last scream faded moments after the last shot was fired."
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, reading a report from an expert, told the court that of the four bullets that were fired toward Steenkamp: "The fourth bullet hit her in the head. She then died."
At this remark, Pistorius clutched his head in his hands.
Burger's testimony was marked by confusion at times.
After Roux had asked her the same question several times Tuesday, Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa intervened: "When counsel asks a question, you answer that question ... Otherwise you will be in that box all day and another day after that. The quickest way to get out of that (witness) box is to answer exactly what counsel is asking."
During Nel's questioning Monday, Burger told the court that she heard a woman's screams and a man yelling for help.
"Just after 3, I woke up from a woman's terrible screams," she said. "Then I also heard a man screaming for help. Three times he yelled for help."
She assumed a nearby home was being invaded by criminals. She later told her husband that she feared the woman had witnessed her husband being shot "because after he screamed, we didn't hear him."
Pistorius pleaded not guilty Monday to one charge of murder and a firearms charge associated with Steenkamp's killing, as well as two gun indictments unrelated to Steenkamp.
It's expected to take at least three weeks for Masipa to hear the case and decide whether Pistorius mistook Steenkamp for a burglar or killed her in cold blood.
In South Africa, which abolished jury trials in 1969, premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence, with a minimum of 25 years. Pistorius also could get five years for each gun indictment and 15 years for the firearms charge.
If he isn't convicted of premeditated murder, the sprinter could face a lesser charge of "culpable homicide," a crime based on negligence, and could be looking at up to 15 years on that charge, experts say.
Parts of Pistorius' trial are being televised live -- a first in South Africa -- after a judge's decision last week allowing cameras in the courtroom. But witnesses have the option of not having their images televised. The witnesses so far have taken that option.
June Steenkamp, Reeva Steenkamp's mother, was in the courtroom for Monday's testimony, marking the first time she had laid eyes on Pistorius in person. The two had never met before.
Steenkamp's parents have avoided previous court appearances because they wanted privacy.
Pistorius, now 27, and Steenkamp, 29 when she died, were a young, attractive, high-profile couple popular in South Africa's social circles.
Pistorius, whose nickname the "Blade Runner" reflects the special prostheses he uses while running, won six Paralympic gold medals and became the first double-amputee runner to compete in the Olympics, in London in 2012.
Cover girl Steenkamp, who was soon to star in a TV reality show, was on the cusp of becoming a celebrity in her own right. But on Valentine's Day 2013 Steenkamp lay lifeless in a pool of blood on the floor of her boyfriend's house in an upscale gated community in Pretoria.
Moments before, Pistorius said, he had pointed his 9 mm pistol toward an upstairs toilet room and fired four bullets through the locked door.
In court documents, Pistorius has said he heard a noise from the bathroom in the middle of the night and -- feeling vulnerable without his prosthetic legs on -- charged toward the bathroom on his stumps.
He has said he shot through the toilet door in order to protect himself and Steenkamp.
"I felt a sense of terror rushing over me," he said in his court affidavit. "There are no burglar bars across the bathroom window, and I knew that contractors who worked at my house had left the ladders outside."
"It filled me with horror and fear of an intruder or intruders being inside the toilet. I thought he or they must have entered through the unprotected window. As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself."
Prosecutors are painting a different picture. They say the pair had an argument and that Steenkamp locked herself in the toilet.
At last year's bail hearing, the state said Pistorius put on his prosthetic legs, collected his gun from under the bed and walked down the hall leading from the bedroom to the bathroom before unloading a flurry of shots through the door.
Pistorius is not claiming self-defense; he is claiming to have been mistaken about his need for self-defense. He is denying that he intentionally, unlawfully killed Steenkamp. He has never denied killing her.
The case has put the spotlight on South Africa's rampant gun violence and high crime rates.
Roughly 45 people are murdered every day, according to police statistics, and the number of home burglaries is up 70% in the last decade.
In 2012, more than half of South Africans told the country's police force that they were afraid of having their homes broken into. In his affidavit, Pistorius said he had been the victim of violence and burglaries before, including death threats.