Airbus reveals A400M's debut flight test plan

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Airbus Military has revealed its long-term flight-test programme for the A400M transport, with its first example expected to launch the schedule with a 3h debut flight late next week.

Aircraft MSN001 has already completed several medium-speed taxi trials to above 80kt (148km/h), and should make high-speed runs this weekend, says Eric Isorce, head of the A400M integrated flight-test operations team. The work will culminate in a rejected take-off run at about 120kt.

Ground activities conducted by the test team since mid-November have identified several minor faults, says Ed Strongman, Airbus's chief test pilot, military programmes. These have including a tachometer fault caused by loose connectors which limited the aircraft's braking, and poor anti-skid performance. A new software load has been supplied to rectify the latter hitch.

Past experiences on the A380 programme have expedited fixes to address minor electrical faults, says Strongman, who adds: "We are working 24h a day in three shifts to get the aircraft ready to fly. We are ahead of my expectations. Each time we go out, we are achieving what we wanted to, and there are no showstoppers to first flight."

MSN001 will fly with two pilots, two flight test engineers, one handling qualities specialist and one engine specialist on board, and will relay real-time information to telemetry rooms in Seville and Toulouse, enabling about 100 more personnel to monitor its performance. The aircraft is expected to lift off at a take-off weight of about 125t, says Isorce - 16t below its maximum limit.

 
© Airbus Military

With two of its Europrop International TP400-D6 engines being fully instrumented and with strain gauges installed on their Ratier-Figeac propellers, Strongman says clearance for the debut sortie will be "limited to VMC, clear weather conditions".

The transport's landing gear will be retracted as it climbs to an altitude of about 10,000ft (3,000m), where it will accelerate to its maximum cruise speed of 300kt/Mach 0.72 before being brought back to minimum manoeuvring speed, says Strongman. This process will be repeated before its handling qualities are assessed at a lower altitude.

Strongman expects subsequent ground inspections to last at least two days, and says: "Within a month or so, we will be building to a high rate of maybe two flights a day." The team plans to fly five days a week, with minor maintenance to be performed at night and more major work to be done at weekends.

Test activities will soon be expanded with the addition of aircraft MSN002 and MSN003 in March and May 2010, respectively. Strongman expects the work to last at least four years, with about 100h to be flown each month at peak activity.

All five test aircraft will be involved in the programme by mid-2011, and the fleet is planned to log a combined 4,370h before the A400M enters service in December 2012. Development and qualification work will be split between three aircraft based in Toulouse and two in Seville, and will also conducted at locations throughout Europe and the Americas, plus north Africa and the Middle East, says Airbus.