Airbus A400M Makes Long-awaited First Flight

 - December 11, 2009, 9:13 AM

The first Airbus Military A400M military airlifter (MSN 1) made its first flight today, taking off at 10:15 a.m. local time (0915 UTC) from Seville, Spain, for a three-hour, 47-minute flight, according to EADS. The six-person crew, led by Edward Strongman, Airbus chief test pilot, military, said the aircraft and its four Europrop International TP400D turboprop engines performed as expected. The original first flight had been targeted for early last year. The EU20 billion ($29.5 billion) program is reportedly suffering from cost overruns amounting to about EU2.3 billion ($3.4 billion).

“We have had a successful first flight,” said Strongman, “The takeoff performance was impressive, we explored a lot of the operational flight envelope, and it was a delight to operate in such a well designed cockpit, with its easy interface to all the normal and military systems.”

MSN 1 took off at a weight of 127 metric tons (279,400 pounds), carrying 15 metric tons (33,000 pounds) of test equipment that included two metric tons (4,400 pounds) of water ballast. The A400M’s maximum takeoff weight is 141 metric tons (310,200 pounds). As planned, the crew explored the aircraft’s flight envelope in direct law, including a wide speed range, and tested high-lift devices at altitude and landing-gear retraction and extension.  

Airbus CEO Tom Enders said of the flight, “We hope we can soon provide certainty that we are able to continue the A400M program. This is expected by those at Airbus, our partners and suppliers worldwide who contributed so strongly to today’s success, as well as by the air forces who wait for their airplane.” A total of 184 aircraft have been ordered so far by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Spain, Turkey and the UK.

“The A400M is the culmination of a singular European industrial partnership that started in 2001,” said Jean-Paul Herteman, CEO of Safran, after the first flight. Safran is involved in the A400M program, especially through the EPI consortium that produces the airplane’s TP400 engine. Other systems and equipment supplied by Safran include the landing gear, wheels, carbon brakes, navigation system, electrical wiring and air starters. “Its capacity of 37 metric tons [81,400 pounds] and modular design make it the new global benchmark in airlift,” said Herteman, claiming, “The aircraft’s performance is partly due to its TP400 engine, the most powerful turboprop in the west to date.”

Two more A400M test aircraft, MSN 2 and MSN 3, are slated to fly in the first half of next year, with MSN 4 following by year-end. A fifth aircraft will join the program in 2011. This fleet will be used for some 3,700 hours of flight-testing between now and first delivery to the French Air Force at the end of 2012. This will be followed by additional military development flying. The type is expected to be certified by both civil and military authorities.