To be blatantly honest I’m quite fond of the A340 as it’s the only four-engined single decker aircraft that is in widespread use, unlike the Ilyushin Il-96, which is currently operated for passenger service only by Cubana. Despite being an Airbus aircraft, the A340 has a surprising amount of character. I’ll probably receive criticism for this but to me it just seems as though Airbus planes are more down-to-business and have less finesse and stylishness than Boeing aircraft. The A340, like the A330, does feel somewhat lacking in elegance, but it makes up with its unique as a four-engined single deck aircraft. The A340 comes in four different variants: -200, -300, -500, and -600. As any plane spotter worth his salt should know, each variant is aesthetically very different from the others, especially when it comes down to proportions.
The oldest and shortest A340, the -200 is visually quite interesting, not 100% in the best way. Like the 767-200, its fuselage is a bit too short for its height and wingspan (which is longer than its fuselage), making it look rather stubby and quite awkward. It’s powered by the CFM-56 engines which produce between 139-151kN of thrust and look appropriately sized on the -200, maybe somewhat on the small side. It was unpopular with airlines due to its awkwardness, and therefore only 28 were produced.
The A340-300 was launched together with the -200, and has a longer fuselage in exchange for slightly reduced range. The fuselage length and general frame proportions of the -300 are much better than the -200. However, the two variants use the same CFM-56 engines, despite the -300 being considerably larger. Therefore, the 4 CFM-56’s on the -300 appear way too small for such a large aircraft, and again are quite awkward. Engine sizes aside, the A340-300 is a well-designed aircraft, evident in its popularity among airlines.
An improved version of the A340-300 and designed to be the world’s longest-range commercial jetliner, the A340-500 features a stretched fuselage and significantly larger and more powerful Rolls Royce Trent 500 engines to compensate for the size increase. The Trent 500’s are an absolute marvel second only to the GE-90, and the ones fitted on the A340-500 are able to produce up to 260kN of thrust. These massive engines combined with the -500’s perfect frame proportions make it without a doubt my favorite A340 variant.
The largest and most impressive A340 variant, the -600 was designed the compete with the 747. It features an even longer fuselage and slightly souped-up Trent 500’s capable of up to 275kN of thrust. I can understand Airbus’ need at the time for an aircraft capable of competing with the 747, and they’ve serious outdone themselves with the A340-600. At 75.36 meters long, it’s longer than both the 747-400 and the A380 but marginally beaten by the 747-8. As a single-deck aircraft, the A340-600 is perhaps a tad bit too long to be aesthetically pleasing, which is why I favor the -500.
The A340 is interesting as a family of aircraft in that its variants are aesthetically very different, much more than what you would find between variants of say the A330 or 777. Pouring over these details that regular flyers wouldn’t even notice is what keeps us plane spotters awake at night but nonetheless entertained.