Flying the A400M at the Airbus Military Trade Media Event


2013-06-05 By Robbin Laird

The trade media journalists who attended the Airbus Trade Media Brief in late May 2013 were given a chance to fly the A400M.

The event was identified on the program as “undisclosed” event but was disclosed by the CEO of Airbus Military on May 30th at a dinner held for the participants.

Journalists who flew on the second of two flights of MSN-4 at the Airbus Trade Media event on May 29, 2013. Credit Photo: Airbus Military

After the flight I asked my friend and colleague, the ever-animated British journalist, Francis Tusa.  Tusa is the editor of the well-respected Defence Analysis, pieces of which are highlighted on Second Line of Defense.

Question: What were your impressions of the plane? What surprised you the most or what pleased you the most?

Tusa: I suppose having covered this aircraft since the early days in the 1990s, at one level just seeing it flying, being inside the aircraft. The lack of noise was the most noticeable, if you can notice something that isn’t there.

And compared to Hercules, C-17, and other aircraft, the fact you can have a conversation without having to shout. This may not be necessarily a massive military advantage. It sure is if you’re a passenger since it’s a very, very pleasant experience.

Also, the seats compared to the standard bucket seats in a Hercules equivalent are far more comfortable.

Francis Tusa standing before the rear cargo doors during the A400M flight. Credit: SLD 

Question: There is an advantage obviously for paratroopers planning to jump along with their equipment. But what was your sense of the take off and the smoothness of the flight?

Tusa: I didn’t actually hear the engine start up. I couldn’t feel the aircraft noticeably shake as the different propellers started.

So I was actually surprised when the aircraft started pulling away.

And then there was an incredibly rapid take off, and acceleration. Certainly, there was then a very, very stable performance in the air, so impressive.

Then, with an ability to wander around the cargo hold, you’re reminded that it is a very big open area, which is precisely what you need in this type of aircraft.

You certainly got the impression that with full clearance the aircraft is going to be taking off with loads on very, very short fields which is what it is designed for.

But then, how often do aircraft come into service really not quite managing to do what they were meant to do in the first place?

There was a significant degree of confidence that this aircraft is going to be delivering a lot of what it was contractually designed for based on what we experienced.

Saurabh Joshi of India’s Stratpost has provided an additional take on the flight experience.

According to a piece published by Joshi:

They gave us boarding passes and we were name-checked onboard the aircraft. Strapping into the suspended seats was easy, once you figured out all the loops and buckles. 

Now your correspondent has earlier had the opportunity to ride in the IL-76 and the C-17. With that frame of reference, it must be said that the smoothness of take-off of the Atlas simply cannot be compared with the slightly anxious moments a first-timer on the IL-76 experiences. 

Visiting the cockpit during the flight. Credit: SLD

Quiet and smooth, with its smaller size and slower turboprop engines, the A400M could maneuver tighter than the C-17 (at least that’s the impression received) and those extended turns could make the unaccustomed passenger queasy. Was it bumpy? As much as a typical flight on a commercial airliner. 

The A400M is a roomy aircraft and this one had a massive engine test module bang in the center of the cargo bay, manned by Eric Isorce, Chief Flight Test Engineer of the A400M, besides two busloads of journalists. It has two doors in the rear for dropping paratroopers as well as a ramp, which can take six tons of weight. 

All the reporters got a chance to spend a few minutes in the cockpit and the pilots were pretty much flying only with their Head Up Displays (HUD). 

Landing was just as smooth as take-off and in post-flight analysis the consensus among the journalists was that the aircraft came together quite nicely.

And our latest partner, DefenceWeb from South Africa posted a very nice gallery highlighting the experience as well.

You can find this video gallery at the following web address: