This morning Airbus Military's all-new A400M took off for its maiden flight from Seville Airport in Spain. The first entirely new airlifter of the 21st Century took to the air from runway 09 at 10:15 local time (09:15 UTC).
At the controls was Chief Test Pilot Military, Edward “Ed” Strongman, 60, with Experimental Test Pilot Ignacio “Nacho” Lombo, 43, in the right-hand seat. Four engineers are also on the aircraft: Senior Flight Test Engineer Jean-Philippe Cottet, 43, who has responsibility for the powerplants; Senior Flight Test Engineer Eric Isorce, 52, with responsibility for systems and performance; Senior Flight Test Engineer Didier Ronceray, 54, with responsibility for the handling qualities of the aircraft; and Test Flight Engineer Gerard Leskerpit, 50.
Between them the multi-national crew has logged more than 31,000 total flight hours.
The aircraft, with a take-off weight of 127 tonnes, is equipped with 15 tonnes of flight-test equipment including two tonnes of water ballast and its performance is being monitored in realtime by teams of engineers in Seville and Toulouse using state-of-the-art air-ground telemetry. The crew will explore the aircraft's handling characteristics in the various flap configurations, check the powerplant operation and make initial evaluations of the aircraft's systems.
Its four all-new Europrop International (EPI) TP400D turboprop powerplants producing 11,000shp (8,200kW) each are the most powerful propeller engines ever fitted to a Western aircraft.
The duration of the flight will be at the test team's discretion and will end with a landing back at Seville in front of more than 2,000 media, VIPs and Airbus Military staff.
Over the last four weeks the aircraft has been extensively tested on the ground in an increasingly challenging programme leading up to the first flight.
The engines have been run at full power, the electrical systems and on-board data network exhaustively tested, and numerous taxying runs at progressively higher speeds have been performed culminating in a rejected take-off test at a speed of 123kt (227km/hr) on 8th December.
Today's first flight marks the beginning of a test campaign that will see some 3,700 hours of flying by an eventual five aircraft conducted between now and entry-into-service at the end of 2012. The A400M will receive both civil certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and military certification and qualification.
Airbus and Airbus Military have drawn on their decades of technical experience in building civil airliners to produce the world's most modern airlifter capable of both strategic and tactical operations. Despite being a true tactical aircraft that can land on soft, rough and short runways to deliver equipment and troops close to where they are urgently needed, it cruises at the same altitudes as jets and at comparable speeds.
It was designed from the outset as an aerial refueller and can offload fuel to both fighters and helicopters at their preferred speeds and heights.
The A400M features the same proven fly-by-wire controls technology as Airbus' highly successful airliner family and an advanced cockpit that has evolved from that of the A380. Carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) wings and other large structures bring weight and strength advantages and cut the risk of corrosion.
A total of 184 aircraft have so far been ordered by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom,
Airbus Military is the only military and civil transport aircraft manufacturer to develop, produce, sell and support a comprehensive family of airlifters ranging from three to 37 tonnes of payload. Within Airbus, Airbus Military is responsible for the A400M programme, as well as for military tanker transport derivatives based on Airbus civil aircraft, with the integration of the state-of-the-art flight-refuelling boom (ARBS) which is unique in its class. With the C-295, CN-235 and C-212, Airbus Military is the global leader in the market segments for light and medium-sized military transport aircraft. Altogether Airbus Military has sold more than 1,000 aircraft with over 650 flying with more than 100 operators worldwide.