The Airbus A400M MSN4´s life cycle comes to an end. With more than 2,000 flight hours, 1,000 flights and many missions and campaigns completed, the Airbus prototype known as `Grizzly 4´ among the team, returns to Bremen after nearly twelve years of pushing boundaries to develop A400M capabilities to its maximum. With the pilots Michel Gagneux and Luis Daniel Sabariegos in the cockpit, the MSN4 performed its last flight to Bremen – number 1,000 and last one in its career – where it will be displayed from now on for a well-deserved retirement after nearly twelve years in service, and after its extraordinary contribution to the development of the A400M. Since its first flight on 20 December 2010, the team behind the MSN4 has taken on every challenge along the way, and now faces its retirement with pride on how this aircraft helped reimagine the future of military operations, turning the A400M into the mature, reliable and modern aircraft it is today.
Airbus A400M MSN4 has been used for all kinds of test flight campaigns through the years to develop key capabilities such as Aerial Delivery, Low Level Flight or Air-to-Air Refuelling, among others. With around 200 flights and 500 flight hours inside the cockpit of the MSN4, Ignacio Lombo, Chief Test Pilot at Airbus Defence and Space, has been witness and contributor to the development of the A400M. MSN4 has also been key in the development and certification of the Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) capability as it is crucial for A400M operators today to fly further and safer on their military operations, as well as being able to perfect combos with other military platforms.
“I will keep Grizzly 4 in my memory as a strong and robust beast. We have taken it to the limit in speed, Mach, altitude, load factor (g’s) and almost tore off its skin!. This aircraft has exceeded all expectations in all kinds of operations with superior performance. If I had to choose, I would say Air-to-Air Refuelling as receiver was the most challenging one. There was a lot of work behind the development of this capability. Through different steps, we reached the Flight Control Laws to perform the receiver role in an easy way with respect to other platforms. As a pilot, it has been fantastic to fly on different Flight Control Laws and, step by step, we managed to reach the perfect manoeuvrability of the aircraft,” Ignacio Lombo said.
The MSN4 has been the determinant for the development and certification for cargo and parachute drops – these being key capabilities for A400M operators today – as it was designed in such a way that the cargo hold was free of instrumentation and, therefore, fully usable for aerial delivery or additional fuel tanks (CHT). The A400M today excels in the parachuting role, as it is able to carry more paratroopers over a greater distance, a capability that reinforces the strategic value the A400M already offers to air force operators and society. More than 100 A400M aircraft are deployed today in 8 different countries and, as part of Airbus’ compromise to a more sustainable military aviation, the MSN4 was also the first aircraft among the Military Air Systems unit to perform a first demo flight with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) last summer, guiding its successors into a cleaner future and helping to pave the way towards the decarbonisation of military aviation.