One aircraft to reshape the European AT landscape
The C130s and C160s of the EATC Participating Nations are aging – 40 years and more of intensive usage have left behind their traces. But the old ladies are not to be scrapped yet – in fact, the newcomer still has to prove that it can duly replace these old, but reliable “workhorses”.
The new A400M is equipped with four turboprop engines and is distinguished to replace its predecessors with a much higher payload, a better flight performance and range capacity while same time being more efficient in both tactical and strategic role. Although the aircraft is primarily designed and developed for military use, it is also registered as civil aircraft.
The first flight took place on 11 December 2009. From now on about 1.500 test flights with a total of 4.500 flying hours were conducted in order to enable Atlas MSN007 to receive the full civil type certification on 13 March 2013 by EASA.
Military certification and qualification - Initial Operating Clearance/Capability, IOC - was granted on 31 July 2013. The awarding of this contract to military standards was carried out by the organization for joint armament cooperation (OCCAR), which issues the certificate on behalf of the A400M participating nations (Belgium, Germany, France, Great Britain, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey) in Europe.
The so far delivered A400M do not yet have an IOC configuration, but can ba made suitable for basic logistic transport tasks in a few time. Following on this initial logistic configuration is SOC1: this Standard Operational Clearance. It will add basic aerial delivery to the A400M’s performance range. One step to this phase has been the airdrop trials with the A400M taking place over the Fonsorbes drop zone near Toulouse.
During eleven flights over a two-week period, a range of different loads had been dropped by parachute - in total 26 platforms and containers weighing from 255kg to four tons using the ramp aerial-delivery system (RAS-wedge) as well as eleven bundles weighing from 15kg to 320kg using the paratrooper doors.
Initially, the third French A400M – foreseen to be delivered at the end of the year 2013 – should have been delivered in a SOC 1 configuration. For different reasons, this has not been possible and the first A400M to be delivered in a SOC 1 configuration is supposed to be the first British A400M - delivered in November 2014. Germany is supposed to get its first A400M - first of following 40 as biggest user of the A400M within Europe.
The subsequent SOC 1.5 is planned to add full aerial delivery in 2015. Also initial tactical capabilities shall be demonstrated compared with initial tanker capabilities.
After another gap of roughly one year - in 2016 - the aircraft delivered under the SOC 2 standard are supposed to be able to fulfill enhanced tactical missions and receive additional performances. Furthermore Spain – who will become full member of the EATC in July 2014 – will prepare to take over the first Atlas the same year.
In 2017, the aircraft delivered to the EATC PN’s Germany, France and Spain and to the non EATC PN’s Great-Britain and Turkey are planned to be equipped with enhanced tanker capabilities as well as search and rescue capabilities. This will than correspond to SOC 2.5.
The two last A400M partner nations, Belgium and Luxembourg, will still have to wait until 2019 to admire their new asset – at that time in the final standard SOC 3.0 (low level flight).
“The Atlas” is equipped with four TP400 engines providing a multiple of power than the two engines of the Transall, therefore the A400M nearly reaches the cruising speed of a civilian jet airliner. The new aircraft operates at a service ceiling of more than 12.000 m, far beyond the performance parameters of the Transall. Furthermore, the A400M is much more capable of flying around areas of adverse weather. The aircraft is equipped with a refueling boom right above the cockpit; it is thus capable of in-flight refueling so that it can be operated globally 24 hours a day.
The A400M carries a much higher payload than the Transall; it can accommodate trucks, armored vehicles or helicopters in its cargo bay.
The crew operate the aircraft with state-of-the-art equipment, among others the modified cockpit of the Airbus A380 with head-up display, a transparent screen which displays the most important flight information so that the pilot does not have to turn his head to look at the information. Eight other LCD screens are installed in the pilot’s field of view, displaying the information the pilot needs at any time to control the aircraft. And this is quite some information, since a military aircraft can have much more equipment than a civilian aircraft. The airframe alone has many more components than an A380: 120 kilometers of cables have been installed behind the airframe paneling. Due to the installation of military navigation, communication and self-defense systems, 30% more components are required as compared to a civilian airliner.
Twenty years ago, some European states, including Germany, France, Great Britain and Spain, launched the process with their intention to jointly build a military transport aircraft. At that time, the C-160 Transall and the C-130 Hercules had already been in service in Europe for some twenty years.
The Transall, a German-French joint venture, had been designed as a tactical transport aircraft right from the start. Although the Transall performed well in its role and turned out to be a very reliable aircraft, it was not planned to be used in other scenarios than the tactical role, the Transall allowed only limited options in strategic missions or theater MedEvac.
While all the C160D (German) and NG (French) should have been “retired” until then only few French C130’s and German C160 ESS will be left over and face step by step their final dismantling – if not being saved by a museum: A moment that many old pilots will follow with a tear in the eye, reminding that those old aircraft proved their reliability even today - by compensating the A400M delivery delay.
Pictures: Airbus Defense and Space