FARNBOROUGH, England -- Airbus Defense and Space is preparing for a massive increase in production of A400M strategic and tactical military airlifter. Two A400M’s were delivered to the French military last year and one was sent to Turkey. This year the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence is poised to receive the first of 22 ordered A400Ms in September, Airbus officials told Military.com.
"This is the most advanced transport aircraft in the world. We will deliver 11 aircraft this year and 20 next year. By the end of 2015, we expect to be producing new A400Ms at a rate of 2.1 aircraft per month," a spokesman for Airbus Defense and Space said here at the Farnborough International Airshow.
The airlifter is engineered for a range of missions to include cargo transport, troop transport, humanitarian relief, paratrooper missions, air-to-air refueling and missions that require an austere landing such as the ability to land on a dirt strip, Airbus officials said.
The A400M recently completed a successful air-to-air refueling test with a Spanish F-18 fighter jet, Airbus officials explained.
The A400M aircraft also finished its first paratrooper exercises earlier this month over France and Spain with Spanish troops during 11 different flights. The aircraft is configured to carry up to 116 paratroopers.
Other customers include Germany, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Malaysia. Airbus officials said conversations with other potential international customers were also underway. Various parts of the large aircraft are built throughout Europe, however final assembly of the A400M takes place in Seville, Spain.
Developers say the A400M has long-range flight capability similar to a U.S. Air Force C-17 while maintaining the tactical, rugged-landing ability of the USAF C-130 aircraft. Airbus officials say the A400M can fly with twice the payload of a C-130 or carry the same payload twice as far.
Equipped with four 11,000-horse power TP-400 engines, the A400M military aircraft can reach speeds of Mach .72 and travel distances as far as 8,700 kilometers. Its maximum take-off weight is 310,850 pounds, Airbus officials explained. The fuselage, or cabin cross-section is designed at four-meters by four-meters to allow for maximum cargo carrying capacity. An entire Apache helicopter or modified Chinook helicopter can be transported by the aircraft, Airbus officials said.
Using specially-engineered eight-bladed propellers, the aircraft is engineered to approach jet-engine speeds, reach altitudes of 40,000 feet and retain the ability to land on dirt or gravel surfaces without needing a runway.
"The aircraft is engineered for rough field performance. It has 12 main landing wheels with low-pressure tires. The more wheels you have, the lower the pressure on the ground from any one wheel," the Airbus spokesperson said.
Propeller aircraft also give pilots the ability to make a steeper approach into landing, something which could be of great value in a rugged or mountainous environment, Airbus officials said.
Rough field landing performance could be particularly useful for humanitarian relief missions where disaster sites might be long distances away from airports or runways.
The French military recently used the A400M for missions in Mali Africa and found great tactical relevance in being able to land the large aircraft hundreds of miles away from a concrete runway, Airbus officials said.
In the cockpit, the A400M has some military-specific technologies but is 95-percent compatible with Airbus’ commercial A380 aircraft. This includes fly-by-wire controls, moving digital maps, Satcom connectivity and other avionics, company officials said. Pilots in the A400M receive most of their information through a heads-up display showing pertinent information with icons such as altitude, attitude and barometric pressure.
The wings of the aircraft are engineered with composite materials blended with titanium. The cockpit and other sensitive parts of the aircraft are armored to protect from small arms fire. In addition, like other aircraft, a void is built in between the so-called wet fuel and the rest of the tank in order to prevent flammable vapor.