Airbus prepares to ground first A400M to fit additional test kit – including rockets

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Airbus is about to briefly ground its first A400M flight-test aircraft to install additional test equipment, including rockets to assist with stall-testing, before continuing with trials in February.

Flight-testing of aircraft MSN001 began on 11 December, and the aircraft had made five flights by 13 January, all from Airbus Military's final assembly plant near Seville, Spain. Airbus's flight-test chief Fernando Alonso says the A400M's flight envelope was cleared in the early test flights: "We've flown it at its VMO and MMO of 300kt [555km/h] and Mach 0.72."

Alonso says MSN001 is due to be grounded shortly after an expected seven flights, to undergo installation of additional test and calibration equipment. As it is tasked with aircraft handling testing, it will also be equipped with rockets to assist in emergency recoveries during stall tests.

a400m-inflight_13
 © Airbus Military

"The rockets are an alternative to the [aircraft] parachutes sometimes used when stall-testing T-tailed aircraft," he says. "They will be able to give us a 'push up the butt' if it gets into a high nose-up attitude."

After the equipment upgrade, MSN001 will be positioned to Airbus's main flight-test centre in Toulouse, France, where it is due to be based for the bulk of its tasks along with MSNs 003 and 006.

Preparations are under way to fly the next A400M, MSN002, which is due to get airborne in March and will be tasked with performance and powerplant tests. This aircraft and MSN004 will be based in Seville for testing, although Alonso says all test aircraft can operate from either centre to obtain the optimum weather conditions.