Airbus Military A400M Atlas Long Range Multirole Transport Aircraft
The Airbus A400M Atlas has entered operational-level service with French military forces and foreign export deliveries are beginning.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Airbus A400M "Atlas" (formerly "Grizzly") is billed as long-range military transport and represents a multi-national development effort. To date the program has been beset by technical delays and cost overruns that have seen initial orders curtailed (or cancelled outright), no doubt due to a downturn in the global economy. The A400M represents the first attempt by Airbus at a high-wing, "T-tail" aircraft and makes use of carbon-fiber composites throughout her construction as a weight savings measure. The A400Ms primary competition remains the ubiquitous (though aging) medium-lift American Lockheed C-130J "Super Hercules" and heavy-lift Boeing C-17 "Globemaster III" series transports though the Airbus product will be marketed to fill the gap between the two aircraft types. Lockheed claims its 1996-era C-130J can accomplish up to 95 percent of what Airbus claims for its newer A400M. At this stage in its development, the A400M is in something of dire straights with Airbus not expecting the program to become profitable unless it receives substantial sales from outside of the NATO fold. At least 2.4 billion Euros are expected to be lost to the program and a European bailout on November 5th, 2010 pumped 3.5 billion more Euros into the fledgling aircraft while orders from key buyers were slightly reduced.
The A400M Atlas (formerly known as the "Grizzly") is designed to meet the aerial transport needs of the modern military. It incorporates the latest in aviation technologies and construction practices to produce a robust and reliable performer tasked with heavy duty hauling of men and machine across vast distances. Performance capabilities are such that the Atlas can operate from soft or rough airfields while at low speeds and can fulfill the dual roles of military service and humanitarian efforts (including MEDEVAC) thanks to its oversized cargo hold.
Origins of the A400M can be traced back to a December 1982 project begun by Aerospatiale, British Aerospace, Lockheed and MBB. The consortium effort came together to seek a suitable next generation replacement for the venerable C-130 Hercules and Transall C-160 series of transport aircraft under the project designation of "Future International Military Airlifter" - or FIMA. By this time, the Hercules had gone on to become one of the most successful military transport aircraft of all time and the Transall C-160 mimicked some of its stellar qualities though mostly for interested European parties. However, the C-130 was born in the 1950s with the C-160 following in the 1960s - as such, both designs were becoming "long in the tooth" so to speak. As with most previous joint American-Euro efforts, the new project fell to naught as conflicting requirements and government finagling slowed development to a snail's pace. For whatever reason, Lockheed was forced out of the FIMA group and went on to pursue its own modernized C-130 in the C-130J "Super Hercules" to compete with the Euro product. FIMA continued in their efforts and eventually added Alenia of Italy and CASA of Spain to make for a truly European design endeavor. FIMA was then renamed to "EUROFLAG" for "EUROpean Future Large Aircraft Group" with the target aircraft expected to become operational sometime in 2000.
Around this time, design studies were undertaken to test out the feasibility of various proposed engine types. Initially, a turbofan engine was entertained over that of a turboprop arrangement though the decision was made in 1994 to head down the turboprop route with a complete feasibility study being finalized in 1995. That same year, Airbus Military officially took over the reins of the program from EUROFLAG and the aircraft design was formally handed the designation of "A400M". Final assembly direction was served to EADS out of Seville, Spain. In 2000, a group formed from Rolls-Royce, SNECMA, MTU, FiatAvio, ITP and Techspace (as the Aero Propulsion Alliance) was charged with developing the aircraft's all-new TP400 turoprop engines. The EUROFLAG group was now formally made up of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom. A procurement agreement for 212 aircraft was signed in May 2003. South Africa joined on April 28th, 2005 but went on to drop out of contention due to growing concerns about development costs. Italy also eventually withdrew from the A400M program.
The loss of those two nations dropped total initial procurement to 180 aircraft. Production of the first A400M began in early 2007 out of EADS Spain in Seville with flight stress testing beginning in 2008. While first flight of the A400M was scheduled to be completed in 2008, delays in the program forced the event to take place on December 11th, 2009 - the year production deliveries were suppose to begin. Currently (2012), the A400M is still undergoing active flight testing and only four evaluation airframes have been completed. The nickname of "Grizzly" was formally assigned to the aircraft to symbolize its rugged qualities and, as of 2010, some 174 airframes were on order to eight interested nations made up of (with respective order totals) Germany (60, since reduced to 53), France (50), Spain (27), the United Kingdom (25, since reduced to 22), Turkey (10), Belgium (7), Malaysia (4) and Luxembourg (1). South Africa was originally slated to buy 8 examples but since cancelled their order. Canada was propositioned by Airbus to fulfill a new requirement but elected to purchase the American C-130Js and C-17s instead. Australia remains a potential buyer of the European A400M system. Interestingly, the United States Air Force Air Mobility Command also received a proposal from Airbus for 118 A400Ms purchases (should the deal succeed). Chile ordered three A400Ms but these were cancelled after national elections. The United Kingdom and France even went as far as to consider the American C-130J to replace their delayed A400M needs ay one point.
Formal serial production of the military-quality A400M began on January 12th, 2011.
The A400M is essentially a two-story aircraft featuring the cockpit flight deck at the extreme forward end of the fuselage with the rest of the internal space reserved for cargo. The cockpit sits atop and behind a short, stubby nose cone that provides for unparallel views to the front and sides of the aircraft. There is a rectangular exit-entry door at the forward fuselage sides for the flight crew. Wings are set at amidships and are high-mounted assemblies sporting anhedral and housing the four engines in underwing nacelles. Engines are held well-off the ground to provide for unfettered ground activity for loading crews. The empennage is also raised off of the ground to allow easy entry-exit of loads into and out of the rear loading ramp. The tail section is dominated by a T-style wing arrangement that sports a large-area vertical tail fin capped by a pair of swept horizontal tail planes. The undercarriage is fully retractable and made up of a nose landing gear leg and a collection of heavy duty main landing gear legs (with a total of 12 wheels arranged in two six-leg pairings) located in a central bulge at the center of the lower fuselage to contend with extreme weights of different cargoes. The aircraft is said to have the capability to land on runways as short as 2,500 feet. The A400M would be crewed by three standard personnel to include up to two pilots and a loadmaster. MEDEVAC would undoubtedly add medical staff as needed.
Internally, the A400M fields a loadmaster's workstation near the forward fuselage. A powered winch is located near the workstation to facilitate the movement of heavy cargoes. The cargo floor itself features retractable side rails and rollers for organizing the internal storage space and optimizing it to need. There are tie down rings and pallets civilian and military in nature are supported. Design is such that the cargo loads can be reconfigured whilst the aircraft is in flight. The powered loading ramp at the rear is rated for cargo up to 6.6 tons. The loadmaster manages the rear via a control panel in the aft section of the aircraft, near the loading ramp. An optional 5.5 ton loading crane can be installed to broaden the scope of A400M operations. A paratroop door aft of the wings and ahead of the loading ramp provide easy access from the fuselage sides.
The cargo hold can accept passengers, medical litters, cargo pallets, paratroopers and military equipment as needed. Up to 116 combat ready infantry or paratroopers can be carried or these replaced by up to 125 medical litters can be stored. Military equipment includes an NH-90 or CH-47 Chinook helicopter, a supply truck or a pair of infantry-level vehicles. Additionally, her internal storage spaces can be used for hauling fuel stores and the A400M can be utilized as an aerial refueling tanker to refuel other military aircraft (including helicopters) through a two-point "hose-and-drogue" installation from each wing trailing edge. The A400M can also, itself, be refueled in-flight thanks to the installation of a fuel probe over the left side of the cockpit roof. The cargo hold is 58 feet, 1 inches in length with a height of 12 feet, 7 inches and a width of 13 feet, 1 inches. The hold volume is 12,007 cubic feet of space. Such versatility may also enable the A400M to be developed to fulfill the military requirements of Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and maritime patrol roles.
The A400M sports an overall length of 148 feet with a height of 48 feet, 2 inches and a wingspan equal to 139 feet, 1 inch. Maximum take-off weight is listed at 310,851lbs while her maximum payload limitation is set at 81,571lbs. Maximum operating altitude during normal operations is approximately 37,000 feet. The avionics are said to be based on those of the commercial-minded Airbus A380 - though modified and maximized for the military role.
The A400M is powered by 4 x EuroProp International TP400-D6 engines that deliver 11,000 shaft horsepower each. This allows for a maximum speed of 484 miles per hour and a ferry range out to 5,412 miles. Unique to each engine is its use of 8 x 17 feet, 5 inch long Ratier-Figeac propeller blades that are noticeable curved rearwards. The inboard engines also rotate in the opposite direction of the outboard pairs - the outboard rotating towards the fuselage and the inboard pair away from. The engines are governed by what is known as FADEC - Full Authority Digital Engine Control, a complete software suite that has itself led to several program delays. The engine was developed by a consortium of European companies including Rolls-Royce, Safran and MTU Aero Engines and was given the contract in May of 2003. A French SNECMA engine was originally considered before Airbus selected a Canadian Pratt & Whitney powerplant (PW180) to power their A400M. Euro-politics deemed a local engine development to be the best answer and moved on a joint development effort to keep the A400M wholly European, thus giving birth to the TP400-D6.
As it stands, the future of the A400M remains somewhat cloudy considering the ongoing world economic situation coupled with ballooning program costs and lack of global customers to date. The ongoing conflict Afghanistan no doubt will drive the need for new, modern transport types but a desperate need by any one party for the expensive A400M remains to be seen, especially when proven, albeit older systems, such as the C-130 and C-17 can still fulfill the battlefield requirement today.
As of August 2012 Airbus announced that it intends to deliver the first of its A400M aircraft to both France and Turkey in 2013 and some 10 further aircraft to Britain and Germany in 2014 pending military evaluation and civil certification. The name of "Atlas" has since officially replaced the original "Grizzly" name. The A400M will also be tested as an in-flight refueler in which pod receivers will be added under each wing.
A February 2013 announcement stated that full operational capability of A400Ms is not expected to be reached until 2018.
An August 2013 update has said that the French Air Force received its first operational-quality A400Ms.
A December 2013 update reported that the original A400M prototype (MSN1) has been retired after having completed 475 total flights. The German Luftwaffe received its first A400M in December of 2014. Though behind schedule, the initial A400M for the Turkish Air Force was been delivered to Kayseri Air Force Base. A second was set to follow later in 2014 with the Turkish Air Force planning for a total of ten aircraft in service by 2018. The United Kingdom received its first aircraft during November 2014 but has since reduced their expected total from 25 airframes to 22. Belgium expects their first unit in 2018 or later. Luxembourg will wait until 2019. Malaysia is expecting their initial Atlas in 2015.
With manufacture of the Atlas ongoing since 2007, some eleven airframes have been completed as of February 2015.
On May 9th, 2015, a Turkish Air Force-bound A400M (MSN23) crashed after take-off in what is believed to have been "multiple engine failures" based on reported accounts. This accident claimed the lives of four of the Spanish Airbus crew. Two survived with serious injuries.
As of March 2015, some 174 A400M aircraft are on order with Belgium (7), France (50), Germany (53), Luxembourg (1), Malaysia (4), Spain (27), Turkey (10), and the United Kingdom (22).
In July of 2016 it was announced that Airbus and Avio Aero were testing a power gearbox fix for its A400M product. This is related to an earlier issue in which an A400M's turboprop shutdown in-flight. The series has become increasingly recognized for quality control issues which have, in turn, led to delayed deliveries.
March 2017 - Malaysia has received its forth A400M aircraft.
April 2017 - Indonesia has committed to purchasing the A400M for its armed services. Local industry of Indonesia may also have a hand in assembly of the aircraft fleet.