Sunday, December 13, 2009
First Flight of the Airbus A400M
The Airbus A400M military transport aircraft had it's first flight on Friday, December 11, 2009 (Thanks to Julius for the tip).
As an aviation enthusiast, I consider every first flight an "event" of sorts, and I'm sure the EADS (European Aeronautic Defence & Space, the parent company of Airbus.
The NYTimes has short article, mentioning $30B to go (for 180 aircraft, $166.7M per copy), and 2 to 4 years late, depending on what one reads. (The C-130J is quoted as $48.5M in 1998 dollars- So it's probably more or less, about half what an A400M will cost. The A400M is purportedly faster, and has fly-by-wire flight controls. And, I believe we had some discussion about this technology a while back: COUNTER-rotating propellers, as opposed to countra-rotating propellers- the inboard and outboard props turn in different directions, but there is only one "row" of blades. "Contra-rotating propellers have been found to be between 6% and 16% more efficient than normal propellers. However they can be very noisy, with increases in noise in the axial (forward and aft) direction of up to 30 db, and tangentially 10db").
(The Airbus website has a photo of the flight deck towards the bottom).
The aircraft is being built at the CASA facility in Seville, Spain- here's a really nice overview of the CASA facility.
The A400M seems to drop right into the notch between the C-130J and C-17; generally it is touted as a replacement for the C130J, which itself is a fairly recent replacement, of sorts, for the C-130-everything else (mostly H's). While relatively speaking a technical success (eventually), sales have not been overwhelming. The US has been a reluctant customer (the first two customers were the UK and Australia).
The customer list for the A400M is dominated by Germany (60) and France (50), with Spain on tap for 27, and the UK signed up for 25 (same as their original C130J order). Some attribute recent (modest) foreign C-17 sales to delays in the A400M program.
I thought it would be interesting to compare the recent airlift platforms operated by the USA, including the C141 (finally retired in 2006).
The C130J is hard to pin down, I've used "standard" fuel (not including the 18000 lbs in commonly attached external pods, and the -30 length for an extra 15 foot of floor space).
(Ranges and altitudes are important, but have been omitted because they are just too variable, depending on load):
AIRCRAFT________ C-130J-30 __ A400M __ C-141B ___ C-17 ___C-5B
MTOW (LB)________ 164,000 __ 310,852 _ 343,000 _ 585,000 _ 840,000
EMPTY (LB)_________ 75,562 __ 154,000 _ 144,492 _ 282,500 _ 380,000
MAX FUEL (LB)______ 44,240 __ 111,333 __ 153,352 _ 243,134 _ 349,886
MAX CARGO (LB)_____ 44,500 __ 82,000 __ 94,508 _ 170,900 _ 270,000
CARGO (MAX FUEL)___ 44,198 __ 45,519 ___ 45,156 _ 59,365 _ 110,134
Obviously, aerial refueling is an important part of the utility equation when flying at the maximum cargo load with all these airlifters. (Throw on the typical C130 external tanks with over 18,000 lbs of fuel, and it's cargo payload gets cut almost in half too).
A limiting factor in a lot of airlift operations is volume, particularly floor space. The C-130's were stretched in Europe until the C-130J offered the 15 foot stretch from the factory. (Great for hauling cargo, but the extra length was a modest complication in "tactical" (read: short field) operations. The C-141 was stretched (and aerial refueling added) as a result of experience during the airlift to Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The C-17 has been mentioned as a candidate for a stretch too, although nothing has come of that yet. (Instead, it's the production line that keeps getting stretched out, for the past 3 years or so).
With cargo voume in mind, here's the cargo bay dimensions, with just the flat floor shown for "length" (not the cargo ramp, which is usable to various degrees).
AIRCRAFT_______ C-130J-30 __ A400M __ C-141B __ C-17 ___C-5B
LENGTH (FT)_______ 55 ______ 58.10 ___ 93.3 ____ 88 _____ 121
WIDTH (FT)________ 9.5 _____ 13.12 ____ 10.3 ____ 18 _____ 19
HEIGHT (FT)_______ 9.0 _____ 12.63 ____ 9.1 ____ 12.3 ____ 13.5
463L PALLETS________ 7 _______ 7 _____ 13 _____ 18 _____ 36
FLOOR AREA (SQ FT)_ 522 ______ 763 ____ 961 ___ 1584 ___ 2299
On the other hand, sometimes heavy items DO need to be carried, the M1 Tank being the flashiest bling-bling at most parties. The C-17 can carry one. I suppose if we just put the barrel of an M1 tank on the C17, it would remove the need to transport the actual tank itself. (Which is sort of what the AC-130 does, with the 105 mm howitzer). Or maybe just lower the back ramp and let 'em shoot from there- great fun! (Hey, if you can launch an ICBM from the back, why not?).
More pedestrian uses of airlifters involved the Stryker ground vehicle, which will fit inside a C-130, per design. (At over 22 feet in length, these are reported to be somewhat ponderous to maneuver in parking lots, but get great respect at the exit gate).
It looks as if one wishes to haul their Bradley Fighting Vehicle around, the A400M is a good fit.
(The 463L Pallet is an Air Force cargo standard, outer dimensions 88" x 108" x 10,000 lb capacity. These dimensions don't take full advantage of the A400M's width, so the fact it and the C130J-30 both carry seven is slightly misrepresentative- one of the items I read states the A400M has twice the cargo volume of a C130, but I suspect that refers to the 40 foot floor of the C-130J-10 and all the C130E and H's).
A400M "cutaway" view.
A400M First Flight Video
A400M avionic suite
Main Landing Gear Configuration
Who makes What
(Although I think South Africa has pulled out of the deal- odd, just five weeks before first flight...)