Like a Fish in the… Air – The Airbus A300 Zero-G Flight

In weightlessness , you forget everything, you dream and you feel light at all levels …

by Jonathan Beneteau – “Cap Sciences” Scientific Coordinator (Weightlessness Reporter)
“Cap Sciences* CNES**” First Weightlessness Discovery Commercial Flight Contest Winner
Zero G Flight Passengers

The 40 passengers with the scientific and technical crew before takeoff in the mythical Airbus A300 Zero-G …

This is the big day for the first paying passengers on the Airbus A300 Zero-G.
This Friday, March 15, 2013, they must take off from the airport of Bordeaux-Merignac to discover the joys of weightlessness. For the first time ordinary citizens are allowed. This is the first commercial parabolic flight in the European Union. Until now, such flights were operated only in the United States and Russia.

January 24. Cap Sciences, Bordeaux.
I discovered what would become my biggest challenge of the year 2013: the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) and European Novespace solicits scientific coordinators from science centers and museums around France to submit a scientific project: “tell us about a space project and you could win a ticket on board of the Zero G flight! “. In other words: prove to us that you are working for the dissemination of the outer space sciences, and you will board the Airbus A-300 Zero G.
No time to lose, the contest is within my reach! First, because I have a long passion for cosmos, second, because in my job I work many times with youngs and not-so-youngs alike on topics such as air travel and space. And on the horizon, the great exhibition “Cap Sciences Space City” of 2015 of which I’ll be the envoy: the human adventure of space exploration! The deal is sealed. I go on vacation, full of hope and anticipation.

February 14. Up in the air in an Airbus A-320, between Hungary and Denmark.
“You have won! You are officially a passenger on the Airbus A-300 Zero G “. I find this by looking through my emails in full flight. I explode with joy. “Champagne! ” I exclaim. Oops. It’s not on the menu of low-cost flights. I’ll have to wait for March 15! Take off in one month from the Bordeaux Merignac airport!
Airbus A300 Zero G Flight

The weightless, how does it work?
Initially, the aircraft is flying horizontally at an altitude of 20,000 feet (6100 meters). The crew gradually increases its speed to about 810 km / hour. The pilot then gradually pulls the plane up to 47° nose up. This phase, so called “of resources input”, is a phase where strong gravity “hyper-gravity” send the passengers to the ceiling of the cabin(!) each person weighting during this time twice its normal weight.
Once the 47° angle is reached, the engine thrust is reduced considerably. This is the “injection” phase: the plane is between parabolic phases. All forces, aerodynamic lift, drag and engine thrust vanish. The plane, under its own weight, enters the parabolic phase and inside, all passengers are weightless. During this phase which lasts 22 seconds, the aircraft continues to climb to an altitude of 28,000 feet while in the same time reducing its inclination until it begins to nosedive.
In the end of the parable the crew is recovering the aircraft and the weightlessness disappears in a few seconds. Passengers are again subjected to a hyper-gravity for twenty seconds. The plane then returns to a horizontal position for about two minutes before starting the following parable.

The pre-flight: the team around the project.
To overcome Earth’s gravity without a Ph.D. in rocket science, it is now possible. I am officially the passenger. First goal: not to disappoint those around me. The second one: to enjoy every second. At “Cap Sciences” where I work, we set-up the framework: from journalistic point of view – with the mobilization of our editors for real-time stage monitoring and ensuring the broadcast on our social networks – and by planning with the help of a group of young science enthusiasts different challenges to be achieved by myself in weightlessness (and other ideas to be used during future space conquering exhibitions)
Airbus A300 Zero G Flight

March 15, 2013. The D-Day.
The Airbus A300 Zero-G of Novespace corporation takes off on today at 13h Bordeaux-Merignac, with its first – in Europe – paying passengers on board on a journey of discovery of weightlessness. 40 (only 6 women) passengers excited, dressed in gray flight overalls, board shortly after noon on the plane from the base of Novespace. On their boarding pass, you could read:
“From: Bordeaux
To: Bordeaux”

Fifteen times 22 seconds
The passengers are accompanied in this baptism of weightlessness by the astronaut Jean-François Clervoy, President of Novespace, a subsidiary of CNES. He himself has 3,000 parables to his credit, but also three flights aboard the American Space Shuttle.

“It’s too good!”
The plane must first reach an air traffic and turbulence free area over the Atlantic Ocean. Of the 40 passengers, 28 have paid 6,000 euros a ticket, the rest, including five students and including myself, has won a CNES competition.
The oldest passenger is 67 years old.
The passengers come from very different backgrounds. The majority are French, including a hedge-funds manager that came especially from Japan, but there are also Swiss, Belgians, a Cuban living in Angola, whose wife gave him the ticket as a surprise gift, a Turk, Ahu Aysal Kerimoglu, owner of a chain of hotels. Another passenger from Switzerland, Liliane Innocenzi, has already made a first baptism in the United States in 2010: “When you have tasted it, you get hooked, it’s too good,” she told before takeoff.
Airbus A300 Zero G Flight

A detail: no toilets on board
For this first European flight, the captain is Eric Delesalle, Flight Testing Director for manufacturer ATR. He has a perfect control of parabolic flight. Before the flight, he shared with other passengers and crew members a little snack – a sandwich and snack-fruits – in a relaxed atmosphere.
In the early morning, the passengers had attended a briefing in which they were given safety instructions and guidance to make the most of this unique experience. Last recommendation before departure: go to the bathroom. There are no toilets on board and the flight is to last two hours total.
Airbus A300 Zero G Flight
The post-flight. The adventure is just beginning.
15 parables, this is amazing! I think of the stardust that we are, as the great Hubert Reeves has said. I felt for a moment like dust, because I did not feel the effect of gravity, and also like a star because of dreams and travels.

I try to compile everything that my brain can register. I need to absorb everything in order to be able to relate these precious seconds later.

My to do list for the coming months: a huge video edited from the 2 hours movie made during the flight, the development of a scenario around weightlessness to include it in the exhibition area at “Cap Sciences”, and the plan to be included again in a weightlessness scientific flight in order to carry out experiments which the young enthusiasts have thought of.
Experiments completed: absorb a water sphere, yoga meditation and … doing the superman
Upcoming experiments: sit on the ceiling, make a foam, find the neutral position of the human body.

*CAP SCIENCES is an exhibition open to the general public for the discovery and understanding of scientific phenomena and technological principles, applications, and industrial know-how.
** Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) is the French government space agency

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