Inside Airbus's excellent A400M

By Pete van der Spek

The Royal International Air Tattoo gives one an idea of which military aircraft are available and one gets to see them put through their paces. One of those aircraft is the excellent (and very photogenic) Airbus A400M.

A A400M on static display at RIAT in 2013

The A400M was designed to be a tactical airlifter multirole aircraft. It is positioned between the Lockheed C-130 and the Boeing C-17 and replaces the C-130 and the Transall C-160 - a hard act to follow. And yet, the A400M does just that - with ease.

The multirole functions include transporting goods, troops and weapons but also can be reconfigured for medical evacuation and even aerial refueling.

The initial flight was undertaken on 11 December 2009 and it went through a very tough certification period flying 2700 hours between 2009 and 2013, achieving certification on 14 March 2013 which cleared the way for its entry into service.

The A400M with the Red Arrows in 2013

The A400M first appeared at RIAT in 2013. On the Sunday, a special fly-past was carried out with the aircraft in formation with the Red Arrows. The solo display by the A400M was fairly tame that year but subsequently, the displays have become more and more spectacular.

The 95+ degree wingover

Moisture over the wings in a tight turn

A high angle of attack on approach

In 2019 the performance was really good showing just how versatile this aircraft is. Climbing out to a safe height, the wingover of around 95 degrees (and maybe even more) was amazing. The short take-off and landing ability is very good and maneuvering in the air for an aircraft this size is astounding.

The cockpit of the A400M taken at RIAT

The cockpit of the A380 taken at Durban International

In 2016, I managed to talk my way onto the flight deck of an RAF example on static display at RIAT and took some photos of the cockpit layout. I also had a quick chat to one of the pilots who said that the aircraft was a dream to fly and he explained that the cockpit layout was very similar to that of the A380 Airbus and if you can fly one aircraft, you should be able to switch to the other fairly easily. The fly-by-wire system with side sticks are a feature of both aircraft as is the glass cockpit.

The A440M demonstrating its short take off capability at RIAT

Operationally, the A400M has shown itself to be outstanding among the air forces that are flying the aircraft. We have even seen a couple of them fly into South Africa during the Covid19 pandemic - we were told they were bringing in medical supplies to this country.

The cargo area of the A400M. Photo Courtesy Erin McClellan /wikipedia

The payload of this aircraft is very good - the cargo area is 17,71m long, 4m wide and 3,85m high. The maximum load is 37 metric tons and the range of the aircraft is 3700 km.

The A400M is a highly maneuverable for aircraft of its size

South Africa was due to be one of the launch customers but due to cost overruns and delays in testing and production time, the South African government cancelled the deal. At the time, they also said they were looking at other options, which as we know, never materialised and we are now left with an acute shortage of transport aircraft. If we had pushed through with the contract, the SAAF would have had a very capable aircraft which would have seen our needs through for decades.

Approach to land

Orders for the A400M have come from Germany, France, the UK, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Luxembourg and Malaysia - a total of 174 aircraft have been ordered.

Specs for the aircraft are as follows:

∑ Crew - 3 or 4
∑ Length - 45.1m
∑ Wingspan - 42.4m
∑ Height - 14.7m
∑ Empty weight - 76,500kgs
∑ Max takeoff weight - 141,000kgs
∑ Powerplants - 4x Europrop TP400-D6 turboprop
∑ Cruise speed - 781kph at 31,000 feet
∑ Tactical takeoff distance - 980m
∑ Tactical landing distance - 770m

All in all, a very capable aircraft in my opinion - an asset to any air force worldwide.


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