A400M Named Atlas But Props Not Yet Ready To Bear The World

 - July 9, 2012, 2:45 AM
Europe’s A400M heavy-lift transport is here with an appropriate new name, but technical teething difficulties prevent it from flying in this week’s air displays. Photo: Mark Wagner

Europe’s A400M airlifter was named Atlas, after the Greek god who carried the world on his shoulders, last Friday in a rain-soaked ceremony at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), RAF Fairford.

The aircraft, which is the first production representative aircraft (MSN6), repositioned from Fairford to the Farnborough static park yesterday. However, Airbus Military has canceled plans to fly in the daily display, admitting that “engine maturity challenges” had not yet been solved.

“We are working like mad with EPI [Europrop International] to find solutions,” Domingo Urena-Raso, Airbus Military CEO, told AIN at RIAT. “I’m sure that we will still achieve initial military qualification by the end of the year,” he continued.

Last Thursday, A400M program chief Cedric Gautier said that civil certification had been delayed by at least a month from the late July target. One month ago, he described the new engine issues that arose earlier this year following fixes to last year’s high-pressure compressor and gearbox problems (see page 40).

At the naming ceremony, British defense procurement minister Peter Luff described the A400M as “a hugely important program for the European aviation industry.” He added, however, “There is still a great deal of work to be done before entry into service.” Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton, chief of the UK Royal Air Force, said the Atlas offers a step change in capability because it could “project air power direct into the battlespace.”

Airbus Military said the A400M flight-test program has logged nearly 1,200 flights and more than 3,500 hours. Recent months have seen successful tests of the aircraft’s air-to-air refueling capability as both a tanker and a receiver; the loading of helicopters; and the first tests of the defensive-aids subsystem. The first three customer aircraft are now in final assembly at Seville, Spain.

A report on the program last week by the armed forces and foreign affairs committee of the French Senate on the A400M was noticeably more upbeat than its previous one two years ago. The A400M was potentially “the best military transport in the world because it is the only one of such size with both strategic and tactical capabilities,” the report said. But the senators warned about slow progress by the partner nations in agreeing on common support arrangements for the aircraft, once they are in service. They also called for a single European military certification for the A400M to improve the aircraft’s export prospects.