The UK's signature of two new contracts linked to its A400M acquisition prompted Airbus Military to fly development aircraft "Grizzly 4" to the Royal Air Force's Brize Norton base in Oxfordshire on 1 March.
This was good news not only because it gave military types the opportunity to see inside the new-generation transport during an open-ramp visit, and also for at least one of the RAF's future "Atlas" pilots to get some flight time at the controls, but as they also took a handful of UK journalists flying for the first time; me included.
Airbus's chief military test pilot Ed Strongman headed the crew which brought EC-404 to a chilly Brize from Toulouse, France. The aircraft carries a light load of flight test instrumentation and associated equipment, which still allowed a British armoured vehicle (a Jackal, I think) to be trial-loaded and removed ahead of our test ride.
Here's some video footage from the day that I compiled and have pulled together with the help of our clever technical people in the office. And thanks to one of our friends at Airbus Military's media team for also taking the camera for part of the filming.
Also, here are some of my first impressions about flying aboard an Atlas (please bear in mind that I'm not a test pilot, folks):
The cargo hold is large and uncluttered, and the seating installed along its sides is both roomy and comfortable. The four-point passenger harness is also considerably easier to use than the more fiddly style familiar on the C-130.
Also with regard to passenger comfort, I was interested to find out whether the company's claims about low noise in the hold would stack up (it previously ditched plans to add active noise cancellation equipment, saying it wasn't needed).
I didn't wear, or need, ear protection during our 1h sortie, and could hear the shouted instructions from the loadmaster from his position near the tail ramp prior to take off, despite the fact that all four engines were running and that I was sat just ahead of them. Acceleration and climb-out were swift, with plenty of engine response, and once up to height noise levels were not unlike being onboard a turboprop airliner. And with a load of equipment in the hold, that should improve.
Having the tail ramp open made noise more of an issue, but was by no measure unpleasant from where I was sitting. I didn't get to stand on the ramp due to a shortage of harnesses, but maybe next time?
Heading up to the flight deck via a narrow set of steps above the loadmaster station, it was striking to see how spacious the Atlas cockpit is, and also how much glass there is - crew visibility looks to be excellent.
In summary, the aircraft's cargo hold is spacious, well lit and comfortable to travel in, and the transport feels to have plenty of agility and throttle response. I'm pretty sure that any RAF pilots or loadmasters currently operating the service's legacy C-130Ks, TriStars and VC10s who have the chance to transition to the Atlas will be looking forward to it arriving on the ramp at Brize for real in September 2014.