Long-range military transport aircraft
The A400M (formerly known as the future large aircraft) is a military transporter designed to meet the requirements of the Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Luxembourg, and the UK air forces.
A European staff target was drawn up in 1993, together with a memorandum of understanding signed by the governments of the seven nations. Italy subsequently withdrew from the programme.
Airbus Military SL of Madrid, a subsidiary of Airbus Industrie, is responsible for the management of the A400M programme.
Other companies with a share in the programme include BAE Systems (UK), EADS (Germany, France and Spain), Flabel (Belgium) and Tusas Aerospace Industries (Turkey). Final assembly took place in Seville, Spain.
A development and production contract was signed between Airbus and European procurement agency OCCAR for 212 aircraft in May 2003. France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, Turkey, Belgium, and Luxembourg initially signed but Italy subsequently withdrew. The order was consequently reduced to 180 aircraft with deliveries starting in 2009. These will continue until 2020.
First metal cut for the airframe of the A400M took place in January 2005 and assembly began in 2007. The first flight was scheduled for early 2008; however, this was delayed by engine development problems. The first A400M aircraft was officially rolled out in June 2008 and the long-awaited maiden flight took place on 11 December 2009.
The aircraft took off with 127t in weight, carrying 15t of test equipment, including 2t of water ballast. Its official maximum take-off weight is 141t.
In January 2009, EADS postponed the first deliveries of the A400M until 2012 and proposed to develop a new approach for the A400M to discover new ways to advance the programme.
2009 continued to be a troubled year for the A400M as estimates on the cost overrun of the project were released with predictions of up to €11.2bn over budget. The South African Air Force started to look at alternatives to the A400M and the European partners placed it under consideration. Airbus suggested that the programme may be scrapped unless €5.3bn could be provided.
Belgium, the UK, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey agreed to lend Airbus €1.5bn and proceed with the programme in November 2010; however, Germany and the UK reduced the number of aircraft ordered to 53 and 22 respectively, decreasing the total to 170.
First deliveries were made to the French Air Force in August 2013 and the remaining deliveries are expected to conclude in 2025.
This first A400M is known as MSN1. The second A400M, MSN2, completed its maiden flight on 8 April 2010, while MSN3 completed its maiden flight on 9 July 2010. The fourth A400M MSN4 completed its maiden flight in December 2010. The first production aircraft of A400M (MSN7) completed its maiden flight on 6 March 2013.
The development of the A400M fleet was designated as Grizzly in July 2010. Trials with MSN1, MSN3 and MSN5 are performed in Toulouse, while those with MSN2 and MSN4 are done in Seville, providing greater flexibility and taking advantage of the best weather conditions available.
The A400M was displayed at two events in 2010: the Berlin Air Show in Germany, and the Farnborough International Air Show in the UK.
The A400M was tested on wet runways and taxiways in October 2011. The water ingestion test was completed successfully. The latest cold weather tests were concluded in February 2013.
Airbus completed a certification testing of the A400M on grass runways in November 2015. The aircraft demonstrated its ability to land on the soft unpaved runway at Pembrey Sands Beach, UK, in May 2017.
An A400M refuelled six F-18 fighter jets of the Spanish Air Force in a single flight, as part of an air-to-air refuelling human factors certification flight conducted in December 2017.
The airlifter successfully demonstrated its paratrooping deployment capability with a maximum dispatch of 116 paratroopers using both side doors in a certification fight test, which was conducted in May 2020.
The aircraft achieved a new milestone with the qualification of its automatic low level flight capability, which provides a special class capability for military transport aircraft, in May 2020. This first qualification phase concerns operations with visual meteorological conditions meaning the visibility for the crew. A second phase certification, which includes the instrumental meteorological parameters, without visibility, is expected to be approved in Q2 2021.
Total firm orders for the A400M stand at 174 aircraft. Malaysia ordered four and 170 aircraft were ordered by seven countries, including the UK (22), Belgium (7), Turkey (10), France (50), Germany (53), Luxembourg (1) and Spain (27).
In April 2005, South Africa signed a contract with Airbus Military to be a full participant in the A400M programme. South Africa ordered eight aircraft for delivery between 2010 and 2014. South Africa then cancelled the order in November 2009.
In December 2005, Malaysia signed a contract for the purchase of four A400M. Deliveries began in March 2015 and concluded in March 2017.
The Spanish Air Force took delivery of its first A400M in December 2016. The French Air Force received its 14th A400M aircraft in March 2018. Germany took the delivery of its 18th A400M in March 2018.
The airlifter Airbus A400M ordered by the Luxembourg Armed Forces made its maiden flight in April 2020, marking a significant milestone in its development. The aircraft, designated as MSN104, is expected to be delivered in the second quarter of 2020.
A total of 90 A400M aircraft have been delivered as of April 2020.
The A400M has a much larger payload than the C-160 Transall and C-130, and the design makes extensive use of composite materials. The capability for short, soft field landing and take-off is part of the requirement and the aircraft has six-wheel high-flotation main landing gear.
The need for airdrops and tactical flight requires good low-airspeed flight and the aircraft also has long-range, high-cruise speed for rapid and flexible deployment.
Final assembly of the composite (carbon-reinforced plastic – CRP) wing box is taking place at Airbus UK in Filton. UK-based GKN Aerospace has supplied the complex carbon composite wing spars. South Africa’s Denel Aviation supplied the fuselage top shells and wing-fuselage fairings while EADS provided the 7m x 4m composite cargo door.
Fuselage assembly is at Airbus Deutschland in Bremen, Germany. Final assembly of the A400M aircraft takes place at EADS CASA in Seville.
Cockpit of the military transporter The A400M aircraft’s cockpit is fully night-vision compatible and provides accommodation for two pilots and an additional crew member for special mission equipment operations. It is fitted with a fly-by-wire flight control system developed for the Airbus range of civil airliners.
Two sidestick controllers are installed to allow the pilot an unrestricted view of the electronic flight displays. The throttle controls are placed centrally between the two pilot stations.
Thales and Diehl Avionik Systeme are developing the A400M’s FMS400 flight management system, based on integrated modular avionics modules, an adaptation of systems being fitted on the Airbus A380 airliner.
The avionics includes cockpit control and display systems with nine 6in² displays and a digital head-up display, which features liquid crystal display (LCD) technology and enhanced vision systems (EVS), for enhanced situational awareness, automated CG calculation, automated defensive aids systems, simple EMCOM switching, simplified switching, uncluttered screens, automated tanker and receiver fuel control and auto fuel tank inerting.
The A400M for Germany is fitted with a terrain-masking low-level flight (TMLLF) system, from EADS Military Aircraft, for low-level flight control. The TMLLF system has a Saab Avitronics flight computer. EADS Defence & Security Systems digital map generator is also fitted.
There is a military mission management system (MMMS), from EADS Defence Electronics, which includes two mission computers. The MMMS controls cargo handling and delivery, calculating the load plan and the computed air release point before an airdrop, as well as fuel management and fuel operational ranges. The MMMS also manages the tactical ground collision avoidance system (T-CGAS) and military / civil communications.
Rockwell Collins was selected to supply the HF-9500 high-frequency communications system and the avionics full-duplex ethernet (ADFX). Cobham Antennas Division provides the SATCOM antennas.
The EADS Defence Electronics defensive aids suite includes an ALR-400 radar warner from Indra and EADS, MIRAS (multicolour infrared alerting sensor) missile launch and approach warner developed by EADS and Thales, and chaff and flare decoy dispensers. A laser DIRCM (directed infrared countermeasure) system may be added later.
The aircraft can also accommodate armour plating crew protection, bulletproof windscreens, engine exhaust treatment for infrared emission reduction and inert gas explosion retardation and fire retardation in the fuel systems. The wings have hardpoints for the installation of electronic warfare pods and refuelling pods.
Rheinmetall Defence Electronics is supplying the loadmaster control system for electronic cargo control. Loadmaster consists of a workstation and control panel, eight sidewall lock panels and a crew door panel. It provides efficient ground loading and airborne cargo drops.
The payload requirements include a range of military helicopters and vehicles, heavy engineering equipment, pallets and cargo containers.
The cargo bay can transport up to nine standard military pallets (2.23m x 2.74m), including two on the ramp, as well as 58 troops seated along the sides or up to 120 fully equipped troops seated in four rows. For Medevac, it can carry up to 66 stretchers and 25 medical personnel.
The A400M can carry 116 paratroops and airdrop them and their equipment either by parachute or gravity extraction. It can air-drop single loads up to 16t; multiple loads up to 25t total; 120 paratroops plus a wedge load of 6t, or up to 20 1t containers or pallets.
It can also perform simultaneous drops of paratroops and cargo (RAS / wedge or door loads) and very-low-level extraction (VLLE) of a single load up to 6.35t, or multiple loads up to 19t total weight. Gravity extraction can be performed for a single load up to 4t, or multiple loads up to 20t total weight.
The cargo compartment can be configured for cargo, vehicle or troop transport or airdrop, a combination of these, and for aero-medical evacuation. A single loadmaster can reconfigure the cargo compartment for different roles either in flight or on the ground. A powered crane installed in the ceiling area of the rear section of the fuselage has a 5t capacity for loading from the ground and for cross-loading.
The rear-opening door has full compartment cross-section to allow axial load movement, roll-on and roll-off loading and for the airdrop of large loads.
The A400M is convertible to a tactical tanker, with the ability to refuel a range of aircraft and helicopters within two hours. Flight Refuelling is supplying the 908E wing pod drogue system, which provides a fuel flow of up to 1,200kg/min for each pod, plus the centreline pallet-mounted hose drum unit fitted in the rear cargo bay, which provides a fuel flow of 1,800kg/min.
In addition, up to two cargo bay fuel tanks (CBT), which connect directly to the A400M’s fuel management system, can be fitted. Total fuel capacity is 46.7t or 58t with the CBTs.
GKN Aerospace won the £6m ($9.54m) contract from Cobham Mission Equipment in October 2011. It includes supplying the air refuelling pylon for the A400M. It also supplies a wing spar for the A400M.
The aircraft’s independent navigation system comprises an inertial reference system (IRS) integrated with a global positioning system (GPS). The weather and navigation radar is the Northrop Grumman AN/APN-241E, which incorporates wind shear measurement and ground mapping capability.
The radio navigation suite includes a pair of instrument landing systems, VHF omnidirectional radio ranging (VOR), radio distance measuring equipment (DME), air traffic control (ATC) transponders, automatic direction finders (ADF) and a tactical air navigation unit (TACAN).
Airbus Military selected the three-shaft TP400-D6 turboprop engine manufactured by EuroProp International (EPI) in May 2003. EPI is a consortium formed by Rolls-Royce (UK, Germany), ITP (Spain), MTU (Germany) and Snecma (France). Rolls-Royce is responsible for overall integration.
The four engines each have a maximum output of more than 11,000shp. EPI states they are the largest turboprops ever made in the West. The engines are fitted with FADEC (full authority digital engine control), supplied by BAE Systems and Hispano-Suiza.
Ratier-Figeac SA of France (a business unit of US-based Hamilton Standard) supplies the eight-bladed composite variable pitch FH386 propellers. The propellers are 5.33m (17.5ft) in diameter and fully reversing with the capability to back the fully loaded aircraft up a slope. FiatAvio supplies the propeller gearbox.
Electrical power generation systems are supplied by Aerolec, a joint venture between Thales and Goodrich. The variable frequency generators provide up to 400kVa.
Messier-Dowty was chosen as the supplier of both main and nose landing gear. Each main landing gear consists of three independent twin-wheel assemblies, providing six wheels on each side. This allows the plane to land on unprepared runways. The landing gear system also enables the A400M to ‘kneel’, which lowers the rear ramp to facilitate the loading of large vehicles.
The main landing gear shock absorbers maintain a minimum distance from the ground whatever the load. Messier-Bugatti supplies wheels and brakes. The aircraft has two nose wheels and 12 braked wheels.
EuroProp International (EPI) has developed the TP400 power plant for the A400M. The power plant has been installed on the inner engine mount of the C-130K flight test-bed.
The A400M’s normal operating speed is 555km/h, but it can reach a maximum speed of 780km/h. The normal and ferry ranges of the aircraft are 3,298km and 8,710km respectively. The service ceiling is 11,300m.
The take-off and landing distances of the aircraft are 980m and 770m respectively. The aircraft weighs around 76,500kg and the maximum take-off weight is 141,000kg.
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