|No. 6512 marks start of a new era
It’s still months from delivery to JetBlue, but the first Airbus made in the USA is
beginning to look like the world class passenger jet that will make aviation history
and launch a new era...
By Michelle R. Thomas and David Tortorano
It’s called 6512, not a memorable name for an aircraft that will go in the record book
for being the first Airbus jetliner made in the USA.
The plane is sporting what looks like camouflage as it takes shape in the 210,000-
square-foot Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility at the Mobile Aeroplex. But next year it
will radiate with the colors of JetBlue, first customer for an Alabama-made jetliner.
The first aircraft going through the brand new Mobile assembly line, along with the
American Airlines A321 that’s second in line, are the embodiment of a watershed
event in global aviation. Airbus, created in 1968, is today one of the world’s premiere
plane makers. Its plant in Boeing’s home turf was a bold move, and it can now claim
the sun never sets on Airbus manufacturing.
The Mobile plant, announced in 2012, gives the company a presence in one of the
world’s most vibrant aerospace markets. In the Sept. 14 formal opening of the plant,
a sign was placed on an aircraft structure that said: “This aircraft proudly made in the
USA by the worldwide team from Airbus.”
While the major components were made in Europe, the two CFM56 engines will come
from a GE Aviation plant in Evendale, Ohio. GE Aviation is part of CFM International,
a joint venture that also includes the Snecma division of France’s Safran.
The making of 6512
The tried and true process of making an A320 family aircraft at the Mobile plant
mimics the process at plants in Germany, France and China. Aircraft 6512 started
taking shape after the first shipment of major sections arrive from Hamburg in June
The fuselage, wings, and vertical and horizontal tail planes shipped to Mobile are
brought to the Transshipment Hangar by truck. They eventually make their way to
the assembly line hangar.
Station 41 (photo left and bottom of page 4) is the first stop, where the forward and
rear fuselage is joined with more than 3,000 rivets. Before that, the lavatories and
galleys are installed through the large open areas. Parallel electrical systems and
cargo loading areas are installed before moving the entire fuselage to the next
station by a large overhead crane. Currently in this station is the fuselage of the
A321 No. 6621, which is being built for customer American Airlines.
Station 40 (photo above and middle of page 4) is the second station, where the
wings are joined to the fuselage. They are joined on each side with more than 1,200
rivets inside and out.
“This is the heaviest workload station with the heaviest pieces and manpower,” said
Frank Fahrendorf, manager of aircraft assembly. “Later when we are at full
production and Rate 4 we will have a two shift workforce with continuous work.”
Assembly of the main and nose landing gear is installed at this station. This will be
the first time the aircraft will support its own weight and will be able to move to the
next section without aide of the overhead crane. During the media tour Sept. 13,
aircraft No. 6512 for JetBlue was getting ready to have the wings attached to the
“The next 10 to 15 aircraft will be the A321,” said Fahrendorf.
Station 35 (photo above) is the final station in the final assembly hangar. This is
where all the final details are installed, including vertical and horizontal stabilizers, tail
cone inner flaps, main landing gear doors and overhead storage. All systems are
tested to ensure mechanical and electrical systems are ready for flight testing. The
lift and staging area is moveable by using air pressure, where the entire base hovers
off the concrete floor just enough so it can move around the aircraft. When finished
here, the aircraft is ready for ground tests.
The next stops are Final Phase/Flight Line Hangar, where the cabin is furnished and
quality inspection of the cabin and cockpit are carried out by the customer. All
electrical systems are checked, engines and engine cowlings are installed and all
systems connections are put into place between the aircraft and the engines.
The Paint Shop, run by Maas Aviation under contract with Airbus, is where all exterior
painting occurs. At this point the aircraft is ready for all ground testing and flight tests.
Finally after many hours of testing, the aircraft will be handed over to the customer at
the Delivery Center.
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