It was 26 years ago in 1982 that European air forces started to talk about building their own military transport aircraft (now excitingly called an "airlifter")and 3 years before design studies commenced. In Spain this week the first airframe of the A400M was rolled out which will, with a wing and a prayer will fly before Father Christmas comes calling (scheduled initially for January this year, then May, then July, then the "summer" and now September). France expect their first plane in the first half of 2010, 6-12 months behind an original target of 2009. (EADS pic here)
The national air forces (This forms the buying consortium (Organisation Conjointe de Coordination en matière d’Armament), the contractual body representing all seven European customer nations.)who have so far ordered 180 planes at launch in 2003 to replace their ageing Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules and Transall C-160 aircraft, France (50 planes), Britain (25), Germany (60), Belgium (7), Luxembourg (1), Spain (27), Turkey (10) will get a superb aircraft that will double the airlift capacity to 37 tonnes up to 4,700 nm. The A400M is designed to carry all loads and vehicles (Cargo Box 3.85 m x 4.00m) in the European Staff Requirement (ESR) inventory, serve as an aerial delivery platform and act as an in-flight refueller for both fast jets and helicopters.
Norway couldn't wait to replace their ageing Hercules and have ordered 4 C-130Js, a slightly strecthed C-130 at a maximum of US $304 million…in November 2007.
Only 2 weeks ago on June 11/08: Boeing delivered the United Kingdom’s 6th C-17 Globemaster III to the Royal Air Force (RAF) which represented an additional 2 aircraft to the 2000 initial 7 year lease deal mutated into an outright purchase. This 6th purchase was quietly slipped in by part time SCottish Defence Secretary in a written answer to a Parliamentary question on July 26th last year. THis pleased both the RAF who like the plane and Boeing who want to keep the production line running.
These are used (max capacity 75 tonnes) to transport major items to theatre in Afghanistan and Iraq, such as Chinook and Apache helicopters and Tornado F3 fighters.
An optional 5-tonne crane can be installed at the rear of the fuselage of the A400M allowing loading and unloading of fully loaded military pallets by asingle loadmaster. Side seats can carry 54 troops or with central seating 116.
So far there have been few export customers South Africa (8) (original partners in the Franco-German Transall C-180) , and Malaysia (4) but Airbus Military (Airbus Military is controlled by EADS / Airbus, Spanish unit EADS-CASA, as well as TAI of Turkey and FLABEL of Belgium.) bravely talks up sales of 200 planes without including the possibility of sales to the US China or Russia and the CSIR.
Major problems have ben experienced and now claimed to be overcome with the enormously powerful TP400-D6 engines, (11,000 shp) the most powerful turboprop engine designed . It has been fathered by a specially created international consortium comprising Rolls Royce (28 %), Snecma (Safran) (28 %), MTU Aero Engines (28 %t) and Spanish Industria deTurbopropulsores (ITP )(16 %). Turboprops provide the optimum combination of take-off and landing performance, cruise fuel efficiency and tactical mission performance such as manoeuvring on the ground, steep descents and air-dropping - optimal cruise speed is Mach 0.72.
This novel engine with offset gearbox incorporates a Ratier Figeac FH 3868 propellor 17.5 feet diameter blades with a carbon spar and a composite shell with just a 10" clearance at the tip from the fuselage. A polyurethane coating is applied on the shell to protect against erosion. Electrical de-icing is used along the leading edge. The outer part of the blade leading edge has a nickel guard to protect against erosion.
Propeller control is integrated into the FADEC, which cuts pilot workload. The FADEC controls the blade pitch angle in order to maintain the propeller at a constant, optimum-efficiency speed. It also provides an autofeathering capability upon automatic detection of an engine failure
Individual plane costs remain secret but the whole project is expected to cost €20 billion. EADS have already booked losses of €1.4 billion on the fixed price contracts with governments caused by delays.