A400M Airlifter Certified for Automatic Low-Level Flight

 - May 29, 2020, 6:01 AM
An RAF Atlas C.Mk 1 is seen during low-level operations in Wales. (Photo: Airbus/Scott Norbury)

Following a series of trials performed in April, the Airbus A400M airlifter has received certification for its automatic low-level flight capability in visual meteorological conditions (VMC). It is the first very large military transport aircraft to be cleared for such operations, a capability that has been available to various smaller Lockheed Martin C-130 models for some time.

The certification campaign was conducted over the Pyrenees mountains along the Franco-Spanish border, and also in central France. During the trials, the A400M flew down to 500 feet above ground level (AGL), and conducted a series of transitions between low-level flight and higher-altitude activities such as aerial load delivery. With VMC capability cleared in this first phase of trials, the test team will proceed to a second phase for instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), with certification planned for the second quarter of next year.

The ability to fly safely at low level allows the A400M to take advantage of terrain-masking to make it less detectable during transits through potentially hostile airspace, and operations in such areas. The A400M’s avionics suite includes the Collins Aerospace (now part of Raytheon Technologies) Terprom (terrain profile matching) system, which is loaded with a detailed terrain database that allows automatic terrain-following navigation at low level, and also provides terrain avoidance warnings.

Airbus has 174 A400Ms on order, of which 90 had been delivered by the end of April, and all of which are operational. Deliveries have so far been made to France (17 of 50 on order), Germany (32 of 53), Malaysia (4 of 4), Spain (8 of 27), Turkey (9 of 10), and the United Kingdom (20 of 22). Luxembourg has one order and Belgium has seven, which together will operate in a joint squadron. The Luxembourg military's first aircraft has flown and is due for delivery in June.