Au Revoir A340: Ian Black bids a fond farewell to a European giant


Last week, former RAF Lightning pilot Ian Black took his final flight at the controls of the Airbus A340. Here he explains how he fell in love with a European classic that is all too often overlooked. 

So, the A340, that’s the long skinny one isn’t it?

Yes and no – The A340 is basically a four-engined A330 – The 340- 300 looks like a normal airliner, almost a “classic”. If someone said ‘here’s a pencil draw an airliner’- that’s what you’d get. The A340-600 which I flew most is a breed apart – with a fuselage plug that makes it look a bit out of proportion, for a while it held the crown as the world’s longest airliner and pioneered the idea of onboard cameras.

Didn’t it have a reputation for being underpowered?

The 340-300 was known as a “finely tuned quad”, the 340-600 with Rolls-Royce Trents was more than powerful. You have to remember that this was an aeroplane that had the capacity to carry 300 + passengers, 100+ tons of fuel and stacks of cargo, yet fully loaded it was still powerful; empty it was gloriously overpowered!

What were the three best things about flying it?

It was an Airbus so it was state-of-the-art and very ergonomic.

It had a side-stick, so felt like a 368-ton fighter.
The flight control protection system was supremely safe.

 …And the three worst things?

The 340-600 was a bit thirsty – eights tons per hour

The 340-300 was never spoilt for power.
I can only think of two things which says a lot for the Airbus !

Can you tell me something most people don’t know about the A340?

No … You can actually pull 2.5+ G in an A340 which is within the design limit – but not nice for the passengers!

Did it have a nickname, or particular reputation?

Strangely it doesn’t have a nickname – It’s quite tricky to do a smooth landing in it consistently.

Click here to read Ian Black’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning.

What was your most memorable A340 flight and why?

Quite a few – I’ve been very lucky in Virgin Atlantic to have clocked a few firsts: I collected G-VGOA from the Airbus factory on its delivery flight for Virgin Atlantic; I flew an A340-600 at the Goodwood Revival meeting and at the Bird Man of Bognor show; I flew the first A40-600 into Los Angeles and recently into Barbados. Some of my memorable flights have been flying an empty aircraft non-stop to Manilla – fifteen hours for Major servicing.


 What advice would you give a pilot about to fly an A340 for the first time?

If you take the ‘automatics’ out it’s just another aeroplane and needs to be flown as such.


Is it true that the A340 performs badly in turbulence (compared to its rivals)?

Not at all. The Boeing 747 is particularly  stable, but the A340 is like any other aircraft in turbulence.

What are the A340’s rivals?

The world has changed in the time the A340 has been on the scene. Initially, oil was $30 a barrel and four engines for long haul seemed a catchy phrase. When oil hit $150 a barrel it didn’t seem so clever. Now oil has plummeted again, four-engined aircraft are no longer frowned upon. The Boeing 777 is a worthy rival. 

What is the future for the A340?

If oil prices stay low I think the A340 will be around for many years. It’s very reliable and has the benefit (340-600) of an exceptional cargo load. This has the benefit of an airframe that still makes money when passenger loads are light

What is your personal relationship with the aircraft type?

Like any French female…one of love!


Will you miss it?

Definitely,  I think after flying with a side-stick it’s going to be hard flying with a yolk. In thirty years of flying, I’ve never had to fly with a yolk. Times change and the Boeing 787 is proving to be a great aircraft for Virgin Atlantic. The passengers love it and it’s having a big impact on the future of long haul flying – The future is definitely bright.


Images: Ian Black 

Check out Ian’s books at

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit


You should also enjoy some more of our articles: There’s a whole feast of features, including the top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an alternate history of the TSR.2, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story of The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 



  1. Ari

    A340 is wiped out by 777-300ER.. Virgin Atlantic bought the -600 version because they were seduced by mouth watering discounts as launch customer and today they are losing millions in long hauls such as London-Hong Kong- Sydney as a result of operating a 4 engine aircraft instaed of twin engine 777’s. Today nobody in his right mind would operate A340-600 when the rival 777-300er is available..

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