Parabolic flights were originally instigated to train astronauts in weightlessness (zero gravity). Now they are used primarily for scientific experiments in weightlessness (microgravity) and for testing space technologies. In Europe, parabolic flight campaigns are usually conducted using an Airbus A300 ZERO-G test aircraft, from Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport, in France.
The flying areas are located out over the Atlantic or the Mediterranean. The flight services offered by the French company Novespace are taken up by the German Aerospace Center (once or twice a year), by the European Space Agency (about three campaigns per year) and by the French space agency CNES (once or twice a year). In addition, ESA arranges an annual parabolic flight for students.
A DLR parabolic flight campaign usually comprises three individual flights, with each flight lasting three to four hours; 31 parabolas are flown on each of these flights. Beginning with a steady horizontal flight, the aircraft gradually starts climbing steeply up to an angle of around 45 degrees. Then, the engine thrust is strongly reduced, and the aircraft starts to follow a parabola, lasting about 22 seconds, during which weightlessness is achieved. That means roughly 35 minutes of zero gravity per parabolic flight campaign. Researchers can use this time to conduct their experiments.
At the ILA Berlin Airshow 2012, visitors will also be able to view the interior of the Airbus A300 ZERO-G.