Riding the Atlas
The Airbus Military itinerary called the slot on Thursday an undisclosed event.
But by afternoon of the previous day, most of the 60 or so journalists from around the world including StratPost, invited to the company’s facility at Seville, Spain for the annual Trade Media Briefing, had kinda figured it was probably a ride on the new A400M ‘stractical‘ lift aircraft. And that evening, their President and CEO, Domingo Ureňa-Raso announced that everyone was going to get a ride on the Atlas (formerly the Grizzly), to much applause from the aviation-geek reporters present.
They split us up into two flights, with your correspondent booked on the first one (And mildly kicked about being the first Indian reporter to ride in the A400M).
An Atlas between the Hercules and Globemaster
The aircraft is a bit difficult to explain. The best way to slot it is in between the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. The A400M can carry 37 tons compared to the C-17’s 77 ton and Herc’s 20 ton capacity.
For the same weight, the A400M can go around twice the distance as the C-130. But always less than the C-17, irrespective of payload. On the other hand, it’s big and has a T-tail, like the Russian IL-76, the C-17 and the Chinese Y-20 development, but has props like the C-130.
Again, like the C-130 and unlike the C-17, it can conduct tactical operations off unpaved airstrips.
So in general, it falls between the C-130 and the C-17 in terms of strategic lift capability in a tactical scenario (Also the reason your correspondent coined the term ‘stractical’ to describe it. Obviously. ‘Cos ‘tactegic’ would have been stupid).
It has four eight-blade contra-rotating turboprop engines (the Hercules has six-blade engines) unlike the C-17, which has turbofans. Oh, and it’s a tanker as well.
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. 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.
So what does it mean for India?
Your correspondent asked the question to Airbus executives and they admitted that with India’s recent orders for the C-130J and the C-17, not to mention an order for six Airbus A330 MRTT tanker transport aircraft, the Indian government might not be too interested in the aircraft at this time.
But what they did point out was that with a payload capability between the Hercules and the Globemaster and the ability to conduct tactical operations off unpaved runways, the Indian Air Force (IAF) might see the utility of the aircraft in future.
Drawing a comparison with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) transport fleet, they pointed out that both air forces operate or intend to operate C-130, C-17 and A-330 MRTT aircraft. And that the IAF might consider and weigh the RAF experience with the A400M, when delivered, to determine its possible utility for India.
Anyway, enjoy these pictures of the A400M by Airbus Military.