A generation leap
A400M and its predecessor C-160 Transall in comparison
The EATC Participating Nations military air transport will be revolutionized when the A400M “Atlas” will be fielded. The A400M is a military transport aircraft constructed on the technological level of the A380 airliner; it is thus in all aspects generations ahead of the C-160 D/F Transall transport aircraft, predecessor of the A400M for nearly half a century. Find some remarkable changes in-between both aircraft - comparison of a German C-160D to the new A400M.
New Design and roles
While the A400M will be operated by means of a sidestick and a complex fly-by-wire system, the Transall still relies on yoke, cables and pivot arms. All operations in the cockpit will be adapted to the Airbus philosophy of the state-of-the-art “glass cockpit”; this entails a fundamental rethinking by the crews. The old round gages have finally become obsolete, and the entire cockpit design is characterized by monitors - crystal displays - which show only those information required for the current flight phase.
The operation and monitoring of the systems in the cargo bay are also completely digitalized, and only the loading and securing of cargo and the reequipping of the cargo bay still have to be accomplished manually. More powerful and fuel-saving engines, extended maintenance intervals, the use of new materials, etc. as well as a significantly expanded range of capabilities require some completely new theoretical approaches for a future concepts.
New management systems onboard
With the fielding of the A400M, 21st century air transport will find its way into the air force. In future, neither an air mission nor technical operations management will be possible without full electronic support: Right before the delivery of the A400M aircraft, a weapon system-specific Ground Support System (GSS) will become operational. The logistic element of this system, the Maintenance Data System (MDS) – a tool for technical operations management – will be used to control and monitor the entire workflow within the technical area, including the registration and control of all POL levels, until the aircraft is handed over to the flight crew. A portable MDS version is used for the continuous documentation of all logistic data related to the individual mission.
The second element of the GSS is the Mission Planning and Restitution System (MPRS), the mission planning program, which the flight crew uses for the entire electronic flight preparation; the data will then be entered into the aircraft. The system includes the standard flight routes for strategic transport aircraft in civil air space as well as all military missions, like low-level flight routes, airdropping of paratroops or material and tanker operations.
Many things will also change in the flight follow-up activities as compared to the traditional management. In addition to the information on the actual flight, the aircraft also records possible complaints or deficiencies, independent of the flight crew debriefing. An electronic workflow translates this information into work orders, i.e. corrective maintenance measures, and orders these measures to be taken. The MDS is furthermore used to accomplish configuration management and control; the system thus saves the entire “life” of an aircraft in a central database.
It will be necessary to follow a completely different approach when using the A400M documentation. From the beginning, all documentation data are prepared for an interactive use and further processing; they are no longer prepared in accordance with technical orders, but arranged in ATA chapters (see background information at the end of this article), published in the English language only and thus adapted to the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) regulations. The MDS provides the opportunity to browse through the electronic technical documentation in a context-sensitive way, which makes it considerably easier for the technician to find the matching data modules. Previously applied procedures for the technical documentation will not be used in their traditional form anymore. Terms like “service bulletin” (technical order of the aircraft manufacturer), “buyer-originated change” (a change initiated by the user/purchaser) or “request for change” will become routine expressions. The documentation will be available on-line so that all users have access to the same, updated version. The documentation of flight operations, the so-called “Flight Crew Operating Manual” (FCOM), will be prepared in a digitalized version as well, which will lead to a nearly “paperless cockpit”, an “Electronic Flight Bag” (EFB), a notebook to be carried along by the flight crew. The EFB is an essential part of the A400M operation; it is already used during the conversion training for this aircraft type. All checklists are no longer produced on paper, like the “to do-lists” traditionally used in military aviation, but will be electronically displayed in the cockpit, in line with the Airbus cockpit philosophy. For the first time, no flight performance element will be included in this electronic “flight manual” of the flight crews; instead, the relevant data are stored in a certified database and calculated by the EFB with the help of performance tools.
The loadmaster uses the Loadmaster Workstation (LMWS) to finalize the load and trim sheet required for takeoff, which was prepared with the MPRS and transmits it electronically via an aircraft server to the cockpit, where it is printed and signed. This is one of the few remaining paper formats still existing in the A400M system.
New maintenance and training conditions
Moreover, the A400M breaks new ground in the area of maintenance and repair. Previously, literally every single screw was personally greeted during the pre-flight inspection; in future, the mechanic is only a few “clicks” away from getting the information on the condition of the aircraft.
It is no longer necessary to open the engine covers, to grab the dipstick for oil and other liquids and to open numerous covers in the cargo bay in order to detect possible leaks. The press-to-test check of the warning lights in the cockpit is replaced by a simple self-test. Inherent to such radical changes is the requirement that the “old-school”- mechanics have to become familiar with the new procedures and the significantly reduced competences. While the mechanics previously were trained in their areas of expertise, e.g. engines, hydraulics, landing gear, etc. to learn everything about even the smallest function of an assembly, there will be a division into the fields of mechanics and avionics (all electrical and electronical equipment on board, including the flight instruments) according to EASA and EMAR (European Military Airworthiness Requirements) regulations in future. A classification in the categories CAT A, B and C will replace the capability levels according to the military occupational specialty code and redefine the competences for the work to be accomplished on the aircraft. As a consequence, any mechanic can be employed in the entire fields of mechanics and avionics and not, like before, only in his area of expertise. There will no longer be a distinction between maintenance and repair personnel; any mechanic will be able to carry out all necessary jobs up to maintenance level (ML) 2 on aircraft as well as single ML2 off aircraft. All other maintenance required above this level will be accomplished by civilian maintenance companies.
This makes the A400M maintenance and repair concept clearly similar to that of the so called “White Fleet” (A310, A319, A340) of the German Special Air Mission Wing MoD or the French Esterell squadron with its A340 and A310. The same is true for inspection measures and the length of maintenance intervals, which will be completely different compared to those of the Transall aircraft. They are governed by the principle of maintenance on condition. Furthermore, the scope and contents of the checks will vary and will build upon each other as far as the contents are concerned.
New ground is broken when it comes to the responsibilities of the loadmaster: The A400M loadmasters are to accomplish not only logistical, but also technical tasks on the aircraft in future.
Particularly the technical part presents new challenges in the fields of personnel selection and training. In simple terms, the technical qualification of the loadmasters will conform with the EASA CAT A level; thus, jobs up to maintenance level 1 (onboard) can be carried out.
This approach requires a completely new training cycle: Depending on the previously acquired technical skills, e.g. the Air Forces Engineering schools will provide an “EASA CAT A equivalent delta training course.” Subsequently, the A400M loadmaster type rating course will take place – the traditional loadmaster training course on the A400M aircraft as well as the “Maintenance Course for Loadmasters.”
Building upon the CAT A knowledge, the latter will convey A400M-specific contents. Thus, the loadmaster will become capable of conducting “ground handling and servicing”, simple troubleshooting and maintenance activities.
Role of the EATC
Additionally to the above mentioned specifications the EATC works parallel on concepts to harmonize interoperability on the A400M in order to enable a smooth introduction into the EATC Participating Nations Air Forces:
The Airchiefs of e.g. France, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain - to mention the most important - have signed the A400M Interoperability Framework. Within this treaty (see earlier EATC article) the nations involved confirm wherever possible, that the A400M is developed, managed and operated through life with interoperability at its core.
Next step on EATC involvement will be a Technical Arrangement between France and Germany mid of September that rules how both nations organize training on the A00M crews.
Words: German Weapons Systems Command, Captain Norbert Thomas, Captain Heiko Hempel
Pictures: Norbert Thomas
ATA (Air Transport Association) chapters provide a common referencing standard for all individual systems of an aircraft. In this referencing system, all technical systems of an aircraft are classified in relevant groups and subgroups. This system applies to all aircraft certified in accordance with FAR 25 (Federal Aviation Regulations, Part 25) or EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) CS-25. This means, that any civilian aircraft designed for personnel and/or cargo transport with a maximum take-off weight of more than 5.6 tons will be certified pursuant to these regulations, which renders a standardized work of maintenance/logistics personnel and design engineers as well as a simple identification of the aircraft systems and parts possible.