The project began as the Future International Military Airlifter (FIMA) group, set up in 1982 by Aérospatiale, British Aerospace (BAe), Lockheed, and Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) to develop a replacement for the C-130 Hercules and Transall C-160. Varying requirements and the complications of international politics caused slow progress. In 1989 Lockheed left the grouping and went on to develop an upgraded Hercules, the C-130J Super Hercules. With the addition of Alenia of Italy and CASA of Spain the FIMA group became Euroflag.
The A400M is positioned as an intermediate size between the Lockheed C-130 and the Boeing C-17. Since no existing turboprop engine in the western world was powerful enough to reach the projected cruise speed of Mach 0.72, a new engine design was required. Originally the SNECMA M138 turboprop (based on the M88 core) was selected, but didn't meet the requirements. Airbus Military issued a new request for proposal (RFP) in April 2002, after which Pratt & Whitney Canada with the PW180 and Europrop International answered. In May 2003, Airbus Military selected the Europrop TP400-D6, reportedly due to political interference over the PW180 engine.
The original partner nations were France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Belgium, and Luxembourg. These nations decided to charge the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) with the management of the acquisition of the A400M. Following the withdrawal of Italy and revision of procurement totals the revised requirement was for 180 aircraft, with first flight in 2008 and first delivery in 2009. On 28 April 2005, South Africa joined the partnership programme with the state-owned Denel Saab Aerostructures receiving a contract for fuselage components.
Delays and problems
On 9 January 2009, EADS announced that the first delivery was postponed until at least 2012, and indicated that it wanted to renegotiate "certain technical characteristics". EADS maintained the first deliveries would begin three years after the A400M's first flight. On 12 January 2009, the German newspaper Financial Times Deutschland reported that the A400M was overweight by 12 tons and may not achieve a critical performance requirement, the ability to airlift 32 tons; sources told FTD at the time that the aircraft could only lift 29 tons, which is insufficient to carry a modern armored infantry fighting vehicle, like the Puma. In response to the FTD report, the chief of the German Air Force stated: "That is a disastrous development," and could delay deliveries to the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) until 2014. The Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the Luftwaffe is delayed at least until 2017, leading to political planning of potential alternatives such as a higher integration of European airlift capabilities.
On 29 March 2009, Airbus CEO Thomas Enders told Der Spiegel magazine that the program might need to be abandoned without changes. The OCCAR reminded the participating countries that they can terminate the contract before 31 March 2009. On 3 April 2009 the South African Air Force announced that it would start considering alternatives to the A400M due to postponed production and increased cost. On 5 November 2009, South Africa announced it was cancelling the order citing increased cost and delivery delays. On 12 June, The New York Times reported that Germany and France had delayed the decision whether or not to cancel their orders for another six months, while the UK still planned to decide at the end of June. The NYT also quoted a report to the French Senate from February 2009, according to which "the A400M is €5 billion over budget, 3 to 4 years behind schedule, aerospace experts estimate it is also costing Airbus between €1 billion and €1.5 billion a year."
In 2009, Airbus acknowledged that the program was expected to lose at least €2.4 billion and cannot break even without sales outside NATO countries. A PricewaterhouseCoopers audit projected that the program would run €11.2 billion over budget, and that corrective measures would result in an overrun of €7.6 billion. On 24 July 2009, the seven European nations announced that the program would proceed and formed a joint procurement agency to renegotiate the contract. On 9 December 2009, the Financial Times reported that Airbus requested an additional €5 billion subsidy for the project. On 5 January 2010, Airbus repeated that the A400M may be scrapped, costing Airbus €5.7 billion unless €5.3 billion was added by partner governments. On 11 January 2010, Tom Enders, Airbus chief executive, stated that he was prepared to cancel the A400M if European governments did not provide more funding; delays had already increased its budget by 25%.
A shortage of military transports caused by the A400M delay led the UK to lease, and subsequently purchase, eight C-17s. France and Germany also considered other aircraft, as all three countries needed support operations in Afghanistan. In 2011, the ADS Group warned that shifting British orders to American aircraft for short term budget savings would cost much more over time in missed civil and military aerospace business, stating that technologies used in the A400M would be a bridge to the next generation of civilian aircraft. In June 2009, Lockheed Martin said that both the UK and France had asked for technical details on the C-130J as an alternative to the A400M.
On 5 November 2010, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey finalised the contract and agreed to lend Airbus Military €1.5 billion. The program was then at least three years behind schedule. The UK reduced its order from 25 to 22 aircraft and Germany from 60 to 53, decreasing the total order from 180 to 170. In October 2012, John Gilbert, Britain's former Minister for Defence Procurement, stated in the British House of Lords "The A400M is a complete, absolute wanking disaster, and we should be ashamed of ourselves. I have never seen such a waste of public funds in the defence field since I have been involved in it these past 40 years."
In 2013, France's budget for 50 aircraft was €8.9bn (~US$11.7bn) at a unit cost of €152.4m (~US$200m), or €178m (~US$235m) including development costs. The 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security cut their requirement for tactical transport aircraft from 70 to 50, including aircraft for use by special forces, France envisaged their A400M order will be cut to 35-40 in the 2014-19 budget.
Before the first flight, the required airborne test time on the Europrop TP400 engine was gained using a C-130 testbed aircraft, which first flew on 17 December 2008. On 11 December 2009, the A400M's maiden flight was carried out from Seville. By March 2010, the first A400M had flown 39 hours of test flights. On 8 April 2010, the second A400M made its first flight. In July 2010, the third A400M took to the air, at which point the fleet had flown 400 hours over more than 100 flights. In July 2010, the A400M passed a key test — ultimate-load testing of the wing. On 28 October 2010, Airbus announced that it was to start refuelling and air-drop tests. By October 2010, the A400M had flown 672 hours of the 2,700 hours expected to reach certification. In November 2010, the first paratroop jumps were performed; Airbus CEO Tom Enders and A400M project manager Bruno Delannoy were among the skydivers. By December 2010, the total fleet flight time had rose to 965 hours. A fourth A400M made its first flight on 20 December 2010.
In late 2010, simulated icing tests were performed on the MSN1 flight test aircraft using devices installed on the leading edges of the wing. These revealed an aerodynamic issue causing buffeting of the horizontal tail, necessitating a six-week retrofit to install anti-icing equipment fed with engine bleed air; production aircraft are to be similarly fitted. Winter tests were done in Kiruna, Sweden during February 2011. In March 2012, high altitude start and landing tests were performed at La Paz at 4,061.5 m (13,325 ft) and Cochabamba at 2,548 m (8,360 feet) in Bolivia.
By April 2011, a total of 1,400 flight hours over 450 flights had been achieved. In May 2011, the A400M's EPI TP400-D6 engine received certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). In May 2011, the A400M fleet had totaled 1,600 hours over 500 flights; by September 2011, the total increased to 2,100 hours and 684 flights. Due to a gearbox problem, an A400M was shown on static display instead of a flight demonstration at the 2011 Paris Air Show. By October 2011, the total flight hours had reached 2,380 over 784 flights. During a wet runway landing test, minor damage of parts of the main landing gear door occurred due to water infiltration.
During May 2012, the MSN2 flight test aircraft was due to spend a week conducting unpaved runway trials on a grass strip at Cottbus-Drewitz Airport in Germany. Testing was cut short on 23 May, when, during a rejected takeoff test, the left side main wheels broke through the runway surface. Airbus Military stated that it found the aircraft's behaviour was "excellent". The undamaged aircraft returned to Toulouse.
On 14 March 2013, the A400M received its Type Certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency.
Production and delivery
Assembly of the first A400M began at the Seville plant of EADS Spain in early 2007. Major assemblies built at other facilities abroad were brought to the Seville facility by Airbus Beluga transporters. In February 2008, four Europrop TP400-D6 flight test engines were delivered for the first A400M. Static structural testing of an A400M test airframe began on 12 March 2008 in Spain. By 2010, Airbus planned to manufacture 30 aircraft per year.
The first flight, originally scheduled for the first quarter of 2008, was postponed due to program delays, schedule adjustments and financial pressures. EADS announced in January 2008 that development problems with the engines had resulted in a delay to the second quarter of 2008 before the first engine test flights on a C-130 testbed aircraft. The first flight of the aircraft, previously scheduled for July 2008, was again postponed. Civil certification under European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) CS-25 will be followed later by certification for military purposes. The A400M was "rolled out" in Seville on 26 June 2008 at an event presided by King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
On 12 January 2011, serial production of the A400M formally commenced. On 1 August 2013, delivery of the first aircraft to the French Air Force, it was formally handed over during a ceremony on 30 September 2013. On 9 August 2013, the first Turkish A400M conducted its maiden flight from Seville, and in March 2015 Malaysia took delivery of its first A400M.
In May 2015, a German defense ministry letter revealed that the member countries had established a Program Monitoring Team (PMT) to analyze and judge Airbus plans to bring the A400M on track. As well as monitoring progress in development and production, the PMT schedules on-site visits to the final assembly line in Seville, Spain, and other production facilities. The PMT's first conclusions on program recovery include an observation that Airbus lacked an integrated approach to production, development and retrofits, treating these as separate programs.
On 9 May 2015, an A400M crashed in Seville on its first production test flight. Germany, Malaysia, Turkey and UK suspended A400M flights during the investigation. Initial focus was on whether the crash was caused by new fuel supply management software, designed to trim the fuel tanks to enable certain military maneuvers; Airbus issued an update instructing operators to inspect all Engine Control Units (ECUs). A key scenario examined by investigators is that the torque calibration parameter data was accidentally wiped on three engines as the software was being installed, preventing FADEC operations. As designed, the first warning of an engine data problem would occur when the plane was 120 meters (400 feet) in the air; on the ground, there is no cockpit alert. On 3 June 2015, Airbus announced that investigators had confirmed "that engines one, two and three experienced power frozen after lift-off and did not respond to the crew's attempts to control the power setting in the normal way."
On 11 June 2015, Spain's Ministry of Defense announced that A400M prototypes could restart test flights and confirmed that its specialist aerospace unit had met with Airbus to discuss flight permits, and that further permits relating to the program could be granted in the coming days. The RAF lifted its suspension on A400M flights "following certain checks and extra procedures" on 16 June 2015, followed the next day by the Turkish Air Force. On 19 June 2015, deliveries restarted; the first aircraft, MSN019, is the seventh to be delivered to France and the 13th to be delivered in all. The FAL has also completed the build of four aircraft for the United Kingdom, which will now undergo pre-delivery checks and trials before being flown to Royal Air Force (RAF) Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
The Airbus A400M increases the airlift capacity and range compared with the aircraft it was originally set to replace, the older versions of the Hercules and Transall. Cargo capacity is expected to double over existing aircraft, both in payload and volume, and range is increased substantially as well. The cargo box is 17.71 m long excluding ramp, 4.00 m wide, and 3.85 m high (or 4.00 m aft of the wing). The A400M operates in many configurations including cargo transport, troop transport, and medical evacuation. The aircraft is intended for use on short, soft landing strips and for long-range, cargo transport flights.
It features a fly-by-wire flight control system with sidestick controllers and flight envelope protection. Like other Airbus aircraft, the A400M has a full glass cockpit. Most of the aircraft systems are loosely based on those of the A380, but modified for the military mission. The hydraulic system has to two 3,000-psi channels powering the primary and secondary flight-control actuators, landing gear, wheel brakes, cargo door and optional hose-and-drogue refueling system. As with the A380, there is no third hydraulic system. Instead, there are two electrical systems; one is a set of dual-channel electrically powered hydraulic actuators, the other an array of electrically/hydraulically powered hybrid actuators. The dissimilar redundancy provides more protection against battle damage.
The A400M's wings are primarily carbon fibre reinforced plastic. The eight-bladed scimitar propeller is also made from a woven composite material. The aircraft is powered by four Europrop TP400-D6 engines rated at 8,250 kW (11,000 hp) each. The TP400-D6 engine is to be the most powerful turboprop engine in the West to enter operational use.
The pair of propellers on each wing of the A400M turn in opposite directions, with the tips of the propellers advancing from above towards the midpoint between the two engines. This is in contrast to the overwhelming majority of multi-engine propeller driven aircraft where all propellers turn in the same direction. The counter-rotation is achieved by the use of a gearbox fitted to two of the engines, and only the propeller turns the opposite direction; all four engines are identical and turn in the same direction. This eliminates the need to have two different "handed" engines on stock for the same aircraft, simplifying maintenance and supply costs. This configuration, dubbed DBE (Down Between Engines), allows the aircraft to produce more lift and lessens the torque and prop wash on each wing. It also reduces yaw in the event of an outboard engine failure.
A forward-looking infrared enhanced vision system (EVS) camera provides an enhanced terrain view in low-visibility conditions. The EVS imagery is displayed on the HUD for low altitude flying, demonstrating its value for flying tactical missions at night or in clouds. EADS and Thales provides the new Multi-Colour Infrared Alerting Sensor (MIRAS) missile warning sensor for the A400M.
The A400M has a removable refuelling probe mounted above the cockpit to allow the aircraft to receive fuel from drogue-equipped tankers. Optionally, the receiving probe can be replaced with a fuselage mounted UARRSI receptacle for receiving fuel from boom equipped tankers. The aircraft can also act as a tanker when fitted with two wing mounted hose and drogue under-wing refuelling pods or a centre-line Hose and Drum unit.
The A400M features deployable baffles in front of the rear side doors, intended to give paratroops time to get clear of the aircraft before they are hit by the slipstream.
- A400M Grizzly : Five prototype and development aircraft, a sixth aircraft was cancelled.
- A400M-180 Atlas : Production variant