Now here’s a real aeroplane. It has propellers.
And yes, it will fly because we need this machine. At present there’s no military airlifter between the C-130 and the C-17 unless you are in the USAF. The maiden flight is programmed some time before the end of the year. But, if it doesn’t meet that deadline, patience!
At Toulouse a few months ago I “flew” one of the test simulators for it.
test rig for the new aircraft
For an ex Herc driver like me, getting your head around this machine takes some doing, and I’m not there yet. It’s a sidestick aircraft (which I have no problems with), and FBW, but flight envelope protection is invisible. You wanna do a barrel roll? Feel free.
I didn’t do a barrel roll, but I did roll 110deg into a mock evasive descent manoeuvre (much good may it have done me in real life).
But just like the A400M’s Europrop International TP400-D6 engines – which have been giving problems that have extended the programme’s spectacular delays - especially their FADECs, its avionics suite and mission systems need some work yet.
Problems? Surprise, surprise! Remember how long the C-130J took to shake down? And that was just a simple Herc with digital avionics and upgraded engines/prop systems.
Since when did military procurement go smoothly?
Anyway, the delays associated with this programme have enabled the “Iron Bird” systems mockup of the A400M to go through many more cycles than it would otherwise have achieved before first flight.
The picture of the “bird” is below. Just so you understand what you are seeing, it’s the complete hydraulic, electrical and control surface actuator rig that represents the systems on the real A400M, laid out in a hangar and powered. Imagine the layout you see as being the aeroplane flying in a direction that’s laterally 2 o’clock compared with your view of the scene. The wings are against the far wall, and they continue around the corners for lack of lateral space to get all the systems in. The red objects are the control surfaces (spoilers etc), weighted to represent real inertia. The walkway down the centre is the rig for the hydraulics/electrics that follow the fuselage line, and on the left, high up, is the horizontal stabiliser with the screw-jack acuator ahead of its leading edge, and the red units representing the elevators where the trailing edge would be.
South Africa may have cancelled its A400M orders, but unless they have changed their defence strategy (quite probable) they’ll be back. If you need an airlifter in the A400M size/performance category, there’s no alternative on the horizon.