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  • Writer's pictureEric O'Link

If it looks like a racoon...

Nicknames.


Their origins vary. Often they arise out of the affection we have for a particular person, place or thing. The “Queen of the Skies” – aka the 747 – comes to mind.


Or just the opposite: Something is so loathed or feared that it earns a special title in the vernacular. I once heard a pilot refer to the Piper Tomahawk he sometimes flew as the “Traumahawk” because “as soon as you extend the flaps, the stall horn goes off.”


And sometimes, a nickname is just more efficient: Rarely does anyone call LAX by its official name, Los Angeles International Airport.


It's not often that a new nickname enters the world of aviation and is quickly and widely adopted. But hey, when it fits, it fits.


Such is the case with the relatively new Airbus A350 series of airliners.


Plane spotters already know where I’m going with this.



The A350 is, from certain angles, an incredible-looking airplane. Much of this has to do with its unique and elegant winglets. Until the A350, jetliner winglets came in three basic variants:


(1) The original “fences” design, which mimicked miniature tail fins above and below the end of the wing as seen on the Airbus A310, A320 series and A380.


(2) The upward-swept fins of various widths, heights and angles now seen on a whole slew of jets – 737s, 747s, 757s, 767-300s, A330s, newer A320s, Embraer regional jets and Bombardier CRJs. Evolution of the original concept continues on 737s, first with the split scimitar version and now with the 737MAX.


(3) Raked winglets: comparatively flat, slightly swept back extensions on the end of the wing, as is common on the 767-400, some 777s, the 787 and the A330neo.


I’m probably overgeneralizing on these categories and not breaking out blended winglets separately. Whatever. The point is straight, flat wingtips are so 1990.


The A350s winglets, er, sharklets are stunning due to a unique curved design. From the ground when the airplane is in flight, they almost look raked. From the side and the rear, they appear like swept streamlined fins. View them from the front of the jet, however, and you see the curve.


These are blended winglets in the truest sense. There’s no obvious point where the wing ends and the winglet begins; the wing simply curves upward in a graceful arc. The curve looks more or less pronounced, depending on the viewing angle. But all in all, striking.


The uninitiated might be thinking that these eye-catching wingtips are what gives the A350 its nickname.


Nope.


Because the A350 has one other notable characteristic: a black outline around its windscreen (that’s pilot talk for “cockpit windows”). And this paint isn’t particular to a specific airline: It’s on all A350s. According to an article at Avgeekery.com, which quotes a Virgin Atlantic Airlines blog, this black outline isn’t for aesthetics. It is to reduce window maintenance and “contributes to harmonizing the thermal condition of this temperature-sensitive window area.”



Sure. Sounds cool. The bottom line is, the jet has a black mask around its front windows and that reminded someone of a racoon. As in, adorable furry critter that raids your bird feeder and pillages your trash in the middle of the night.


It would be slightly amusing to refer to the A350 as “the racoon.” Thankfully, because of the World Wide Waste of Time and memes, we have something snarkier. What’s another name for a racoon? A trash panda.


So. Much. Better.


Some clever person christened it with this pet name and it’s been The Trash Panda to avgeeks ever since. When I snapped a photo of an A350 sitting at the gate in Detroit earlier this year, a description immediately came to mind: “The panda in its natural habitat.” (You can see that and more photos over on the Jetset Shirts Instagram page.)



The first time I heard someone refer to the A350 as the trash panda, I thought, “I want that on a t-shirt.” So I created one: A nose-on profile of the A350 with its beautiful curving wingtips and its little black mask. You can get your own Trash Panda shirt in our web store.


One of these days, I hope to catch a ride on the A350. And when I do, you better believe I’ll be wearing my Trash Panda shirt.

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