This year should prove to be a momentous one for the Airbus Military A400M. On the last day of April, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) granted the multinational airlifter–also dubbed the Grizzly–its initial type certification shortly after the five-aircraft test fleet had notched up the type’s 1,000th flight. Test activity is in full swing as the program prepares to achieve its next major milestone: delivery of the first customer aircraft at the end of the year.
On November 23 last year, an A400M entered final assembly at the Airbus Military plant in Seville, Spain. While the five previous flying airframes were destined for the development fleet, MSN7 is to be the first aircraft for the French Armée de l’Air. In order for the aircraft to be handed over around the end of the year, the A400M team has to achieve a number of goals.
EASA certification was the first major hurdle, confirming that, in the words of Cédric Gautier, A400M program chief, “We have a sound aircraft.” In May, the last of the trials aircraft, MSN6, began functionality and reliability (F&R) testing, covering 300 hours. A successful completion of F&R will result in full EASA certification, with initial military qualification to be achieved later in the year. The first flight of MSN6 had been put back to December 20 last year because of engine problems, and also so that it could be completed to as near to production standards as possible. It is, consequently, shouldering most of the certification work.
Following last year’s high-pressure compressor and gearbox problems, which are now fixed, new engine issues arose earlier this year. The start of the F&R campaign was delayed due to excessive vibrations being detected in one of MSN6’s engines. An engine-change allowed F&R to continue, albeit with a one-month penalty. Earlier, MSN4 suffered a propeller gearbox failure. Gautier remained sanguine that the root cause analyses would not reveal any major problems, but added that, “We need to fly intensively to recover the time.” He also conceded that F&R tests might have to be re-flown if there was an engine or gearbox modification.
Prior to delivery, MSN7 will undergo a short development test campaign to certify new modifications and functions before it is handed over to the French air force. MSN8, also for France, entered final assembly on March 9 this year and should fly before the end of 2012, and Airbus Military began the assembly of MSN9 last month. This is to be the first aircraft for Turkey, and is due to fly in the first quarter of next year.
The first three aircraft will have IOC/entry-into-service (EIS) release, which allows them to operate as logistic transports. In 2013, the Service Operating Clearance (SOC) 1 will be released, providing initial aerial delivery capability. Subsequent releases will be SOC1.5 (2014: full aerial delivery and initial tanker), SOC2 (2015: enhanced tactical mission and additional performance), SOC2.5 (2017: enhanced tanker and search and rescue) and SOC3 (2018: low-level flight). Earlier aircraft will be brought up to later standards as appropriate. The IOC/EIS standard has no defensive aids subsystem (DASS), while a partial DASS is fitted to SOC1 and a full DASS implemented at SOC1.5.
Airbus Military plans to deliver three aircraft in 2012/13, seven or eight in 2014, and then ramp up to full-rate production by the end of 2015, with 2.5 aircraft delivered per month. Currently, MSN10 to 15 are in various stages of pre-assembly production, and long-lead items have been launched for another four or five aircraft.
According to the production plan, the UK will receive its first aircraft (MSN16) in 2014, followed by Germany (MSN18) and Malaysia (MSN22). Spain gets its first aircraft (MSN46) in 2015, while Belgium/Luxembourg gets MSN133 in 2018, by which time the full operating clearance should have been released.
While production ramps up, the test team has been extremely busy, both in the air and on the ground. Static tests for both civil and military certification have been completed on the MSN5000 test article, while fatigue tests are around half complete. More than 12,500 simulated flights have been undertaken as the fatigue test campaign aims to take the airframe to 2.5 times its design life.
In the air, the five development aircraft are well past 3,000 hours and 1,000 flights, although, as Fernando Alonso, senior vice president for flight and integration tests, pointed out, flying hours account for only 13 percent of the total test time since the first flight.
Among recent test achievements were seven takeoffs and landings at Hyères in crosswinds gusting to 37 knots, completion of anti-icing trials in late May and a hot-and-high campaign at La Paz in Bolivia and Lima, Peru. Eleven flights were undertaken, including takeoffs from La Paz’s El Alto airport at 13,325 feet AMSL.
Refueling receiver trials have been performed with RAF VC10 and Voyager aircraft. Initial dry contacts were made with a VC10 last year, and in May two flights were flown behind a Voyager, with 30 dry contacts performed. Another 25 contacts were made behind a VC10 and last month trials began with a Transall tanker. Meanwhile, early trials of the A400M as a tanker have begun, testing the wing pod and fuselage refueling unit from an aerodynamic and handling standpoint. According to Alonso, there were “no issues on handling, no issues on performance.” Hose extensions are due to be performed soon.
In early May, noise tests were successfully completed at Morón. Spain, demonstrating the A400M’s low noise levels both inside and out. Later in the month. MSN2 began unpaved runway tests on the grass strip at Cottbus-Drewitz, including rejected takeoffs. Last month MSN4 went to Holzdorf in Germany for loading tests with NH90 and EC725 helicopters.
The A400M has also been on the road. “Since the end of last year we have spread our wings,” said Alonso. “We have a great product and we are delighted to show it around.” As well as its South American trip, the A400M visited Southeast Asia earlier this year on its first real marketing tour that included Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Major tests planned for the remainder of the year include airdropping of loads, military communications trials and tests of the DASS. The climatic envelope will be expanded further with hot weather tests at either Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates or Tozeur in Tunisia, and additional cold weather trials.
Training and Support
As well as preparing the aircraft for EIS, Airbus Military is busy implementing training and support for the new aircraft. Airbus is providing an EIS team of engineers to support the new type and has nearly completed development of the ground equipment. Technical documentation is being compiled and ground support systems are in the final stages of development and testing.
An international training center was established in Sevilla in October 2010 and will begin A400M flight crew training in September. It will have a comprehensive suite of training aids, including full-flight simulator, loadmaster workstation trainer, cargo hold trainer and various computer-based training systems. The first two French crews will also use development aircraft MSN6 so that their training is complete before the end of the year.
France is also establishing its own national training center at the A400M’s first operating base at Orléans, which is scheduled to begin training crews in September 2013. A UK national training center opens in March 2014, while Germany is also establishing its own training capability.