While aviation was making the world more accessible and the concept of the 'global village' was born, the Space Shuttle was introduced and satellites revolutionised our view of the Earth and realms beyond. The arrival of the Airbus A320 and its fly-by-wire technology meant that flight became much more reliant on a plane’s computer.
Revolution from above1981
Europe’s contribution to the Space Shuttle
Among humanity’s technological achievements, the US Space Shuttle stands out. It was developed for a post-Apollo programme era where astronauts and cargo were to be carried into space within reasonable budget limits. On behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA), Europe’s contribution focused on the scientific missions. An industrial consortium led by MBB-ERNO (now Airbus Defence and Space) developed the modular elements making up Spacelab, a reusable laboratory flown on certain spaceflights that allowed scientists to perform experiments in microgravity. The elements included a pressurised laboratory, a gimballed instrument pointing system and cargo bay pallets. This reusable Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS) platform caused a sensation on account of both its technology and prospective cost savings.
Human space flight From Spacelab to Orion
One day, the Orion European Service Module built by Airbus will take humans to the Moon and beyond continuing a legacy of pioneering technologyView story
Space activities were not the only stage for greater European collaboration, or moments of connection between the East and West. The European Union expanded to include Greece, Spain and Portugal in the 1980s and the Schengen Agreement was signed, paving the way for even greater free movement of people within countries that were both member and non-member states. Then in the penultimate year of the decade, the Iron Curtain fell, throwing open the doors to the former Eastern Bloc countries to join the Union.
The French space authority CNES selected Matra as the prime contractor for the SPOT satellite platform. In addition, the company took on the task of integrating the instruments for this landmark French Earth observation programme, which provides incredibly detailed images of our planet.Video
The Hipparcos ‘100,000 stars’ satellite successfully lifted off aboard an Ariane 44LP. Matra was the prime contractor for this research satellite whose purpose was to help compile a new catalogue of the stars.
The ESA X-ray satellite Exosat was launched in May 1983. Matra was responsible for the development and integration of the low- and medium-energy experiments, while MBB provided the altitude control system and scientific experiments.
Equipped with two liquid and two solid propellant boosters, the Ariane 44LP version could transport larger payloads into space. The Ariane 4 was known as the 'workhorse' of the Ariane family.
The Spacelab was aboard the first flight of the Columbia Space Shuttle in November 1981. The first ESA-sponsored mission, Spacelab-1, followed two years later and most missions included a significant ESA science/payload contribution. In total, 22 Spacelab missions were flown, representing some 244 days on orbit. The partnership with NASA extended to the crew: German Ulf Merbold’s flight on STS-9 in 1983 was the first of dozens of flights by ESA astronauts in the following years.
The arrival of the A320New stars are born1987
Although the Airbus A320 was the first airliner to fly with a digital fly-by-wire control system, this technology had already been used on military aircraft as well as the Space Shuttle orbiter and the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle.
The A320 has given rise to a whole family of aircraft with passenger capacity that ranges from 100 to 200. With its first flight on 22 February, 1987, the A320 was a major achievement in commercial terms, with over 400 aircraft on order even before it first flew, compared with 15 for the A300 in 1972. Less than three decades later, the order tally for the A320 Family has reached over 12,500 units (as of late 2016).Video
The A310 was a shortened and further developed version of the A300 with a range of around 9,000 kilometres. It offered the concept of ‘communality’ where pilots could qualify to switch from one aircraft version to another with a single day of training.
The extremely successful twin-engined turboprop commuter ATR 42 features the most modern cockpit in its class. It was followed four years later with the 70-seater ATR 72.
Computers weren’t only gaining new ground in civil aviation in the 1980s, but also made their way into the home. The personal computer grew hugely in popularity, with the IBM PC launched in 1981 and the Apple Macintosh introduced in 1984. It was the first commercially successful personal computer to use a graphical user interface and mouse. Meanwhile the internet was taking shape in academia in the second half of the decade, and Tim Berners-Lee had formalised the concept of the World Wide Web by 1989 and performed its first demonstrations a year later.
Developed as a high-performance single-engine turboprop aircraft, the Socata TBM700 is an incredibly versatile craft having been used extensively in business aviation, military liaison flights, medical evacuations, global security and even emergency freight.
The CN-235 was developed by CASA and built in cooperation with the Indonesian company Nurtanio. This aircraft is built as a civil regional aircraft and also as a military transporter. Additionally, it can be used as a maritime patrol aircraft.
MBB’s Bo 108 demonstration helicopter was based on the successful concept of the Bo 105 and led directly into the development of Eurocopter’s EC135. It had the most up-to-date technology, including a composite structure, new vibration absorbers and ultra-modern avionics with screens.
Computers enter the cockpit
The A320 pioneered the use of digital fly-by-wire flight control systems in a commercial aircraft, which are now a standard in the airline industry. The A320’s fly-by-wire technology was not only a way of improving flight controls and reducing weight, it also enabled Airbus to take safety to a new level by introducing flight envelope protection, which prevents an aircraft from performing manoeuvres outside its performance limits. Fly-by-wire also firmly established the concept of commonality which is so central to the appeal of Airbus aircraft to customers. This allows the pilot to fly aircraft of varying sizes or weight in the same way because the computer ‘drives’ the aircraft’s flight controls. It leads to considerable reductions in the time and costs involved in training pilots and crew to operate them.
Barbara Harmer Queen of the skies
Barbara Harmer, born in southeast England in 1953, was Concorde’s first qualified female pilot.View story