There was a surprise appearance at the Paris Air Show on Friday as the first prototype Airbus A350 XWB airliner did a flyover for the crowds at Le Bourget Airport. The flyover was part of what was the aircraft’s third time in the air and was a last minute bonus appearance due to it performing much better than expected on its previous two test flights.

Designated MSN1 in Airbus’ numbering system, the jetliner took off from the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse at 10:50 AM CEST (08:50 GMT) and headed north for Le Bourget where it arrived at about 1:30 PM (11:30 GMT) under an overcast sky. Airbus Captain Peter Chandler and Captain Guy Magrin made a slow turn over the airfield at an altitude of 600 ft (183 m) and flew along the air show runway past the crowd. After clearing the area, it turned away to continue its test flight and disappeared into the cloud cover.

This was the first appearance of the A350 XWB at a public event. French president François Hollande was a special guest at the air show and one of the reasons for the appearance.

This appearance is unusual in that this is only the third time the A350 XWB has flown. It was the craft’s third test flight with the first flight on June 14 and the second on the 19th. According to Airbus the flights were, “Just what [the pilots] expected; what they experienced in the flight simulator.”

The results of the first two tests prompted Airbus to open the flight envelope to high speeds and high altitude, which made the appearance at the airshow possible. The fly-by was cleared with France’s DGAC civil aviation authority and the Paris Air Show organizers and will count as part of the 2,500 hours of test flights to be conducted by a fleet of five development aircraft for the A350’s certification.

Under development at an estimated cost of €12 billion (US$15 billion, £10 billion), The A350 XWB comes in three variants seating 270 to 350 passengers in three class layouts. It’s a long-range airliner powered by two Rolls Royce XWB Trent engines putting out 84,000 lb of thrust each that were built especially for the plane that has a cruising speed of Mach 0.85 (903 km/h, 561 mph, 487 knots).

It is also the first Airbus plane to be built with 70 percent advanced materials with both the fuselage and wings made mostly of carbon composites. The wings are the largest ever produced for a wide-body plane.

According to Airbus, the A350 XWB has a 25 percent advantage over the Boeing 777 in terms of fuel efficiency and a eight percent advantage over the 787. At the time of the flyover, 678 orders from 34 customers had been placed for the A350 with the first recipient being Qatar Airways, which will take 80 aircraft made up of all three variants.

The video below shows the flyby of the A350 XWB.

Source: Airbus