The A400M is Airbus Military's first bespoke product and traces its roots to a European Staff Requirement for a more capable airlifter for the 21st century. In broad terms the type would replace the C160 Transall and Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules of purchasing countries' air forces. The eight partner nations specified an aircraft that could perform both tactical and strategic airlift roles.
Airbus Military and project partners Turkish Aerospace Industries and Belgium's Flabel realised that in an era of tight budgets, any new aircraft would have to be able to fulfil a number of roles. In addition to transport duties, the A400M would be designed from the outset to provide an aerial refuelling capability. It would be no mere form/fit/function replacement for the C-130; but offer dramatically improved performance and operational capabilities.
The first A400M development aircraft was rolled out from Airbus Military's Seville production facility in Spain on 26 June 2008. The medium transport features the largest Western turboprop engines to date swinging massive eight-bladed scimitar propellers. The first Grizzly, as the five developmental aircraft became nicknamed, was flown on 11 December 2009. Following an extensive developmental programme, Airbus Military is set to deliver the first operational A400M, or Atlas, to the French air force in late June or early July 2013. In advance of the milestone being achieved, Flight International was invited to Toulouse to fly the new-generation product.