The Airbus A400M Atlas is a European, four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. It was designed by Airbus Military (now Airbus Defence and Space) as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities to replace older transport aircraft, such as the Transall C-160 and the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The A400M is positioned, in terms of size, between the C-130 and the C-17; it can carry heavier loads than the C-130 and is able to use rough landing strips. The A400M combines the capability to carry strategic loads with the ability to deliver even into tactical locations with small and unprepared airstrips. And in addition it acts as a frontline-tanker for other aircraft. Along with the transport role, the A400M can perform aerial refuelling and medical evacuation when fitted with appropriate equipment.The A400M was launched in May 2003 to respond to the combined needs of seven European Nations regrouped within OCCAR (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, Spain, Turkey and the UK), with Malaysia joining in 2005. The A400M made its first flight on 11 December 2009. The first production aircraft was delivered to the French Air Force in August 2013 and in service a year after. The A400M already has seen operational use with the French and Turkish Air Forces in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, African’ Sahel Region, Mali and in the Middle East to support the air operations over Iraq and Syria.
Previous generation tactical airlifters have good tactical performance but cannot carry the outsize military and humanitarian relief loads because their cargo holds are too small. Current strategic aircraft are good outsize-load airlifters but are costly and have limited tactical capability as they cannot operate from soft fields. The A400M is a larger, more modern, truly versatile aircraft specifically designed for today’s requirements and those of the future. Thanks to its good tactical performance and the ability to carry outsize loads over long distances, the A400M fills the current logistic and tactical capability gap. Its cargo hold has an inside usable width of four metres / 13ft 1in, height of up to four metres / 13ft 1in, and usable length of 17.70 metres / 58 ft. With a maximum payload of up to 37 tonnes (81 600 lb) and a volume of 340 m3(12,000 ft3), the A400M can carry numerous pieces of outside cargo including, vehicles and helicopters that are too large or too heavy for previous generation tactical airlifters, for example, an NH90 or a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, or an heavy infantry fighting vehicle for military purposes. It can also carry a heavy logistic truck, or a rescue boat, or large lifting devices, such as excavators or mobile cranes needed to assist in disaster relief.
It can accommodate 116 fully equipped troops or paratroops, seated in four longitudinal rows: 54 sidewall seats permanently installed in the cargo hold can be easily folded against the sidewalls. Two-centreline seat rows (62 seats) are fully removable to clear space for cargo.
The A400M is the only large airlifter that can fly heavy and outsize equipment directly to the point of need. The A400M is designed to operate efficiently from austere airfields, with unpaved airstrips, short runways, limited space for parking or maneuvering and no ground facilities, conditions that present severe constraints for any tactical airlifter. The A400M is able to land on, and take-off from, any short, soft and rough unprepared CBR 6 airstrip, no longer than 750 m / 2,500 ft, while delivering up to 25 tonnes / 55,000 lb of payload, and with enough fuel on board for a 930 km / 500 nm return trip. The autonomous capability of the A400M enables operations from remote austere airstrips. By minimising time on the ground, the A400M’ systems reduce the aircraft’s vulnerability to hostile action. The state-of-the-art digital Load Master Work Station (LMWS) enables full management of the Cargo Handling System and monitoring of aerial delivery operations. The cargo floor can be re-configured very quickly as rollers can be manually and easily turned upside down by a single operator in order to have either rollers down for flat floor configuration or rollers up for pallet configuration. The main landing gear can be kneeled to lower the rear of the aircraft in order to adjust the height from cargo floor to ground and reduce the crest angle formed between the Ramp and the Cargo Floor when the Ramp is deployed to the ground.
Designed from the outset to be a dual-role transport and tanker aircraft, the A400M provides air forces with a cost- effective way to acquire an air-to-air (AAR) refuelling capability in addition to a versatile logistic and tactical airlifter. The standard A400M aircraft has much of the equipment and software provisions for 2-point air-to-air refuelling operations already installed as standard. Any A400M can be rapidly reconfigured to become a tactical 2-point tanker able to refuel probe-equipped receivers at their preferred speeds and altitudes. With a basic fuel capacity of 63,500 litres (50,800 kg) which can be even further increased with additional Cargo Hold Tanks, the A400M is the most capable tactical tanker on the market. The two hose and drogue under-wing refuelling pods can each provide a fuel flow of up to 400 US gal / 1,200 kg per minute to receiver aircraft. Refuelling can also be done through a centre-line Hose and Drum Unit (HDU) which provides a higher fuel flow of some 600 US gal / 1,800 kg per minute. The A400M is the only tactical tanker offering a third refuelling point for large aircraft refuelling and as an alternative to pods. To monitor day and night Air-to-Air Refuelling operations, the A400M can be fitted with three cameras controlled from the cockpit by the co-pilot, suppressing the need for visual observers. The A400M is the only Tanker which can refuel the entire range of probe-equipped military aircraft at their preferred speeds and altitudes. Thanks to its powerful turboprops it can fly both at the low speeds and low altitudes to refuel slow receivers as well as at higher speeds and altitudes of about 300 knots and altitudes around 25,000 ft which are typically used for refuelling of fast jets, such as fighters (such as the Eurofighter) or large aircraft (such as the C295) or even another A400M for buddy refuelling.
The A400M excels in the airdrop role, being able to drop from both high and low altitudes. With the new A400M, which can carry more paratroopers than other Western-built military transport, Airbus Defence and Space is setting new standards in paradropping operations. The A400M can accommodate up to 116 fully equipped paratroopers, carrying them to the drop zone at speeds up to 300kt, but dropping them at as little as 110kt to ensure minimum dispersion. Crucially, two streams of paratroopers can jump simultaneously from the ramp or the two side doors to further cut jumping time and scatter. Careful aerodynamic design reduces turbulence behind the aircraft and deployable baffles at the door exits protect jumpers from the airflow. The aircraft is also fitted with a winch, allowing any ´hung-up´ static-line paratrooper to be safely retrieved. The type’s low speed characteristics make the A400M ideal for dropping supplies from low altitude. The A400M can airdrop up to 25 tonnes / 55 100 lb of containers or pallets through gravity and parachute extraction. The Computed Air Release Point (CARP) linked to the Automated Release System, automatically computes the release point for optimum delivery accuracy, including corrections for wind effects.