The Franco-German C-160 transport aircraft is still going strong after 40 years of faithful service.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The Transall C-160 tactical transport aircraft was born out of a joint French-West German consortium known as "Transporter Allianz" (abbreviated to "Transall") which, itself, was made up of Nord (later Aerospatiale), Hamburger Flugzeugbau (later Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB)) and Weser Flugzeugbau (later VFW-Fokker) . The consortium was forged in January of 1959 and took on development of a new, adaptable, rugged and tactically-minded military transport to service both the French and West German air forces. The program proved one of the rare successes of joint-European collaboration and furthered the viability of prop-driven, high-wing loading transport aircraft in a military setting (perhaps best popularized by the American Lockheed C-130 Hercules line). The new French-West German creation would go on to fulfill this role, eventually forming the lifeline of medium-lift operations for each respective operator.
The Transall group came to an agreement on an aircraft design centered around a voluminous internal cargo hold accessed via a rear-set, powered loading ramp for ease of operation. This design would be furthered complemented by high-wing loading to help keep the spinning propeller blades clear of ground activity and provide for inherently good short take-off and landing qualities against semi-prepared airstrips. The aircraft could then be charged with carrying supplies, equipment or combat-ready troops (including paratroopers) as needed across ranges out to North Africa. The aircraft would also be blessed with strong low-speed, low-level flight characteristics consistent with the controlled dropping of supply-laden pallets or paratroopers while the aircraft was in-flight. Power would come from a pair of high-output turboprop engines for markedly good operational ranges. To mark their new design, the aircraft took on the conventional "C" designation (for "Cargo", largely accepted in US transport nomenclature), followed by the design's wing area in square meters, this being "160". Therefore, the aircraft was officially given the designation of "C-160".
From the beginning, the joint development effort was signaled by a 50/50 split partnership along national lines with no one concern marked as the principle contractor. The French enjoyed a good level of experience in recent joint-efforts, mostly with the British, when undertaking the Concorde high-speed airliner as well as the SEPECAT Jaguar strike fighter. On the other hand, the Germans lacked such knowledge - in part to an aviation engineering force still establishing itself after the demilitarization of Germany following World War 2 - and were limited to manufacture of basic transport aircraft. Nord would be given production control of the engine nacelles, wings and undercarriage control systems while Hamburger would produce the forward and aft sections of the fuselage, the all-important powered loading door and the vertical tail fin. Weser was given manufacture rights to the landing gear door panels and center fuselage/wing root sections. The engine of choice became the Rolls-Royce Tyne 20 Mk 22 turboprop engine of 6,100 shaft horsepower - already being built under license in France by Hispano-Suiza.
Design-wise, the appearance of the C-160 was highly conventional and not unlike the Lockheed C-130 Hercules mount. Construction is of all-metal with a semi-monocoque internal frame. The fuselage was stout and tubular - flattened only along the bottom facing - with the flight deck fitted forward behind a short nose cone assembly offering excellent views out of the cockpit. Doors were fitted to either side of the rear fuselage for paratrooper drops or passenger entry/exit. The wings were set ahead of center mass and high-mounted for maximum ground clearance as well as strong lift characteristics. The wing assemblies featured no sweep of any kind and were clipped at the tips. The twin engine pairing were fitted within streamlined nacelles along the wing leading edges, each engine sporting four-bladed propeller systems. The empennage was specifically designed to taper upwards and provide unfettered access to the rear loading ramp. The loading ramp was designed as a two-piece system with the main ramp floor lowering down to the height of a standard truck bed. The upper empennage section then rose to help improve overhead clearance. The cargo bed floor was fully reinforced to support nearly all manner of supplies and equipment - including light vehicles - conforming to the specified weight limits. An integrated winch system assisted in bringing heavy loads aboard. Up to 93 seats could be installed within the cargo hold for the transporting of passengers while 60 to 88 combat-ready troops could be seated in their place (their equipment taking up the rest of the space). Alternately, 62 medical litters and corresponding medical personnel could be carried. The tail section was capped by a single, large-area vertical tail fin with a pair of horizontal tailplanes fitted to its base. The low-set undercarriage was fully retractable and consisted of a pair of four-wheeled main landing gears as well as a twin-wheeled nose landing gear leg. The main legs were held in underfuselage sponsons at the center of the design while the nose leg retracted under the flight deck floor. The wheel's low-pressure nature made them suitable for rough field operations.
Initial flight of the first of three prototypes was accomplished on February 25th, 1963 out of Melun in France. The remaining two prototypes then each went airborne later that year and two static test frames were also delivered. Early production of the aircraft began in 1965 resulting in six pre-series "C-160A" model aircraft. Upon completion of evaluations and formal acceptance into service, serial production of the C-160 began in 1967, this being shared equally between the participating parties across West Germany and France - of note being that no one facility or nation produced each aircraft in whole, each being dependent upon the other for the final end-product.
The initial production venture yielded 110 examples to the German Luftwaffe (as the "C-160D" - D for "Deutschland") while France completed 50 examples (as the "C-160F" - F for "France"). The first foreign recipient became South Africa which received the type as the "C-160Z" in 9 examples. Of the German count, 20 examples would be eventually delivered to Turkey as the "C-160T". Air France also made use of four C-160 production models as the "C-160P" for night time mail service. Pelita Air of Indonesia also made use of C-160NG models for mail national deliveries. Only South Africa was ever a direct military customer of the C-160 beyond France and West Germany.
The standard C-160 design was powered by the aforementioned Rolls-Royce Tyne 20 Mk 22 turboprop of 6,100shp. This supplied the airframe with a top speed of 368 miles per hour with a range of 1,150 miles as well as a ferry range of 5,500 miles being reported. The aircraft could manage a service ceiling of 27,000 feet on a rate-of-climb nearing 1,300 feet per minute. The C-160 enjoyed a wingspan of over 131 feet and height of just over 38 feet with a running length of approximately 106 feet. In addition to the turboprop installations, the C-160 wings held the provision to accept auxiliary jet boosters for drastically improved STOL actions, this installation supplying the aircraft with up to an additional 5,200lbs of thrust. Despite the benefits, this feature was never actively used by any operator. Both the flight deck and cargo hold could also be pressurized to suit both comfort and operating altitudes.
By 1977, the French Air Force was looking to upgrade their C-160F line and contracted to create the new "C-160NG" (NG = "Nouvelle Generation") designation. Development of the new aircraft resulted in serial production of 29 new airframes beginning in 1981. About fourteen of these airframes were further designed for "double-duty" in that they were plumbed for the aerial tanker role with transport still being their primary role (a hose drum system being installed along their portside undercarriage sponson). Five of the new C-160NG airframes also came delivered as "ready-to-fit" this refueling equipment if required. The C-160NG production model was identified by its fixed in-flight refueling probe as well as an increased internal fuel storage for improved operational ranges. Self-defense also benefitted with the addition of Type 507 chaff/flare dispensers as well as a Thompson-CSF "Sherloc" Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) system.
The C-160H "TACAMO" became a group of four C-160NG airframes completed with special "unjammable" communications equipment allowing crews to work in conjunction with submerged French nuclear submarines. An additional two C-160NG airframes were modified for the SIGnal INTelligence (SIGNIT) role as surveillance platforms and, themselves, identified by wingtip pod fittings, a retractable radome under the front fuselage and antenna fixtures throughout the design. These models were designated as the "C-160G GABRIEL" and saw service throughout the latter portion of the Cold War and in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Total C-160 production became 214 aircraft including the aforementioned prototypes and pre-series models.
Within time, the C-160 was naturally beginning to show its age on the modern battlefield. During the span of 1994 to 1999, French authorities approved a modernization program to help keep their C-160F and C-160NG models viable for the near-future. Upgrades went on to include updated digital systems, digital processing and cockpit Heads-Up Display (HUD) as well as a new radio management system and revised flight instrumentation. GPS was also introduced to the family line and the defensive suite was further addressed. The changes created the resulting "C-160R" designation (R = "Renovated"). Similarly, the German Luftwaffe enacted a limited-term modernization program for their fleet of C-160s. However, this - as in the French endeavor - only served to extend the life of the aircraft for the short-term. Unlike the French and Germans, however, the South Africans went ahead and retired their entire fleet of C-160Zs. Turkey continues to operate their ex-German C-160Ts as of this writing.
It is expected that the C-160 family line will eventually be superseded by the new, highly advanced Airbus A400M transport aircraft - currently seeing a lengthy development period and ballooning project costs. Both Germany and France have placed quantitative orders of the type (since cut back in number to some extent) with South Africa eventually bowing out of that program altogether. Nevertheless, the C-160 still enjoys an active operational existence in the French, German and Turkish air forces. The French have fielded at least one C-160 example in the ongoing war over oil-rich Libya, this aircraft being based out of Crete.
With over 40 years of service since her inception, the Transall C-160 design has proven to be both a reliable and effective fixture in her defined role.
March 2018 - The French Air Force plans to replace its pair of Transall C-160G "Gabriel" SIGINT aircraft with modified Dassault Falcon business jets in the same role. Delivery is set to begin in 2025.
Status Active, In-Service
[ 214 Units ] : Transporter Allianz (Transall) - France / West Germany
France; Germany; Indonesia; West Germany; South Africa; Turkey
- Special Forces
106.30 ft (32.4 m)
131.23 ft (40 m)
38.22 ft (11.65 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Transall C-160 production model)
63,934 lb (29,000 kg)
112,436 lb (51,000 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Transall C-160 production model)
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Transall C-160 production model)
319 mph (513 kph; 277 kts)
27,001 feet (8,230 m; 5.11 miles)
5,504 miles (8,858 km; 4,783 nm)
1,300 ft/min (396 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Transall C-160 production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Transall C-160 production model)
C-160 - Base Series Designation
C-160A - Pre-Series Models; six completed
C-160D - West German Designation; 110 examples.
C-160F - French Designation; 50 examples
C-160Z - South African Designation; 9 examples.
C-160T - Turkish Designation; 20 ex-West German production models.
C-160P - Air France air mail conversion models; four examples; based on C-160F model.
C-160NG - Improved Frencvh C-160 appearing from 1981 onwards; 29 examples.
C-160H "TACAMO" - Specialized French platform for nuclear submarine communications; 4 examples.
C-160G "GABRIEL" - SIGINT electronic surveillance platform (French); 2 examples.
C-160R - Upgraded (renovated) C-160F and C-160NG models to new standard.
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