Will the A400M fly, then?


A400M engine run.jpgThe A400M’s first all-engine, on-wing engine-run 


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.

A400M simulators_copyright Airbus.JPGA400M fixed-base simulators, wired up to the ”Iron Bird ”

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.


Cockpit_AC-1_A400M.jpgAlso, the sims need a lot of shaking down before they deliver. But the engines are the most powerful turboprops the Western world has ever attempted, and the avionics are incredibly ambitious.

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. 

A400M iron bird_copyright Airbus.JPGIt may be rigged to one of the simulators (there’s one with motion systems as well), but the systems and control surfaces are constantly being flexed just to test their durability.

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.

10 Responses to Will the A400M fly, then?

  1. TL 21 November, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    As long as no one tries to put lipstick on it I guess.

    Would the eastern competition be the AN 70 then?

    Reports suggest that the Russians (RuAF) are getting back into bed with the Ukranians (Antonov) and will have their own production line which if true makes me wonder about the marketing segment/potential and a major thaw is in the offing:

    “Besides energy, talks in Yalta on Friday between Russian and Ukrainian officials addressed cooperation in aerospace and nuclear energy technologies, and bilateral trade relations, according to a Korrespondent web magazine report.

    Russia and Ukraine were organising a joint venture to develop a home-grown GPS navigation system, including satellites, said Oleksander Zinchenko, head of Ukraine’s National Space Agency, in Interfax comments.”


    I also wonder if the Russian decision behind this partly comes from the realization that there is a big, big market out there (especially for tough transports that can run reliably in austere conditions) that both Russia an the Ukraine can profit from rather than leaving it open to the A400M.

    Will it be that the ‘rich/aspiring’ countries buy A400M, everyone else the An 70?

  2. Marck 22 November, 2009 at 2:59 am #

    Mr. Learmount,

    What about the not-so-far KC-390?

  3. Foo Bar 22 November, 2009 at 7:26 am #

    “If you need an airlifter in the A400M size/performance category, there’s no alternative on the horizon.”

    Ever heared of the AN-70 ???

  4. Craig Hoyle 23 November, 2009 at 10:24 am #

    If the A400M is some way off in-service maturity then lord knows where the An-70 (how many false dawns have there been already?) stands. The engines need replacing and it’s a long time since it was developed, so there are no doubt lots of obsolescence issues facing Antonov by now. And can Russia and Ukraine really put their differences behind them and work together? Hmm.
    The KC-390 is pitched as a C-130 replacement, so it’s not likely to be in direct competition with the A400M for much of the time. I’m sure Embraer, like Airbus, will encounter hitches along the way: look at the major design changes that the aircraft has already received since it was first shown. But they could be onto something – France and Sweden are already looking at it as a way of offsetting possible success in Brazil’s FX-2 fighter deal, so it could well make it out of its home market early in its life.
    Hopefully I’ll be in Seville to witness the A400M’s first flight for Flight International; should be great!

  5. 7K7 23 November, 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    Craig, please take some videos of it for us :-)

  6. KEESJE 23 November, 2009 at 1:30 pm #

    I agree the A400m seems to have a market segment of its own, and it seems a large segement.

    180 A400Ms need to be delivered asap because the European air forces need the capasity badly. That could restrict export opportunities for some time to come.. except when a partner is contracted to expand capasity in e.g. the USA such as Boeing, LM or NG. (If you can’t beat them don’t let your domestic competitor get a piece of the big pie).

    The An-70 was/is a very ambitious design from the early nineties. A lot of work has to be done to make it ready and if so, the Russian airforce will probably book the early 100-200 slots for the next 10? yrs.

    I wonder which western airforce would really order this Oekrain / Russian machine after innitial general enthousiam..

  7. Layman 23 November, 2009 at 2:43 pm #

    I am a South African and the story we been told w.r.t. the South African cancellation of the A400M was the unacceptable maintenance cost escallation – rather than there is no longer any need for the plane.

    I suppose that there may be more transparency of military costs here than in Europe – But a maintenance escallation costs of 500% above what was planned should make anyone think again. Maybe we are just naive.

  8. David Learmount 23 November, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

    I think South Africa’s decision shows a remarkable lack of naivety. And if the in-service experience is eventually a good one, a few years down the line SA could look again at the product having been spared the agonies of introduction into service. That’s not my definition of naivety!

  9. keesje 24 November, 2009 at 11:16 am #

    there is a video of the engine runs:


    have they gone to full power yet?

  10. Desmond Voncannon 10 January, 2010 at 8:24 pm #

    You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.