An impressive American Sioux chief painted on a vertical tail plane greets visitors to the 15th Air Transport Wing of the Belgian Armed Forces. The Native American is the emblem of the unit, while ‘Tenacity’ is the wing’s motto, an attribute that may well define its last incorporation, the A400M.

Belgian and Luxembourg air forces have jointly operated the Airbus A400M since October 2020 when the first aircraft arrived at Melsbroek Air Base, Brussels. From the heart of Europe, the A400M transports troops, carries outsized cargo and drops material in multiple missions across the globe.

“The arrival of the A400M [in 2020] brought with it a tsunami of information, required knowledge and skills but we had the attitude, the energy and the motivation to take on the new capability,” says Colonel Bruno Beeckmans, 15th Wing Commander, Belgian Air Force. “And to fuel it in as little as 18 months when phasing out our C-130 fleet.”

Melsbroek Air Base


The C-130H had been in operation with the 15th Wing since 1972, a task now played by the European transport airlifter with significant new capabilities. 

“The A400M can take at least twice the payload of the C-130,” explains a Belgian A400M loadmaster* who was previously operating the Hercules. “This allows us to transport new military equipment that is bigger and heavier than before.”

“The coordination with the loadmaster is really good as we have a lot more contact with them than we had on the C-130. We no longer have a flight engineer, who was the person between the cockpit crew and the cargo crew. Now, we work a lot closer together,” he adds.

For a 15th Wing pilot, the main advantages of the A400M are its digitalisation and its technology, which makes it “a powerful aircraft”. She says: “It has a lot of automation possibilities, making flying safer at busy moments, but it is also still possible to fly manually without automation. That is great too.”


From Central Africa to the US

The Belgium-Luxembourg binational unit is currently using its fleet of seven A400M airlifters for both tactical and logistical missions, such as transporting up to 116 fully-equipped troops and carrying outsized cargo, including vehicles, containers, and helicopters like the NH90. The eighth A400M is expected to be delivered in the second half of 2023.

“For the logistical missions, we do lots of missions to the Central part of Africa, to the USA, within Europe as well, and for the technical missions, we do exercises and work together with other nations and other aircraft,” says a Belgian A400M mechanic. 

For instance, in late 2022, the 15th Wing participated in a military exercise with the Italian Air Force focused on the dispatch of paratroopers. “We do logistical and technical training. We already train to drop paratroopers via static line or via freefall but we also drop material with a container. It is a kind of gravity extraction,” he says.

A400M Belgium - Luxembourg(5)


A close and lasting relationship with the Royal Air Force 

Melsbroek Air base consists of 630 binational employees, supported by Airbus contractors and British exchange personnel. This close relationship with the Royal Air Force (RAF) goes back to the Normandy landings during World War II, when a Belgian squadron – later on merged into the 15th Wing – flew over with the ‘Crabs’.

We have an exchange programme with the Royal Air Force. We have one RAF instructor pilot and one loadmaster instructor in the squadron and we learn a lot from them,” says the A400M pilot. “They help us in explaining how they see things and what they do and then we can take lessons learned from them. It has gained us about five years of experience.”

One of the Belgian A400M loadmasters spent three years in an exchange programme with the RAF to take advantage of their knowledge and “make improvements for our own benefit”.


Defence of European sovereignty

But this partnership is not just limited to the RAF, as cooperation is key for Belgium and Luxembourg alike. “BeLux is a true believer in multinational cooperation,” says Colonel Beeckmans. “As we have been helped doing our startup by our friendly neighbours, we have the habit and the duty to repay this genuine kindness by sharing our insights and best practices with other operators who are open for refreshing ideas..

“We actively feed the European Air Transport Command (EATC) and participate in exchanges, improving initiatives.”

The EATC is an organisation composed of seven nations and 150 aircraft such as the A400M, the A330 MRTT and the C295, for military air mobility, including transport, air-to-air refuelling and aeromedical evacuation within Europe. 

Since February 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, the EATC has conducted more than 800 missions as it boosted its activities to support the needs of the member nations in the Eastern flank of Europe.

A400M Belgium - Luxembourg(3)


Always on duty

Airbus personnel arrived at Melsbroek with the A400M three years ago and since then have been offering logistic services, maintenance, technical support and flight operations to the binational unit so that the 15th Wing can always be on duty.

“The Airbus mechanics that are currently present in our base were really helpful in the beginning because they had all the experience on the aircraft,” says the A400M mechanic. “Even now, there is still a big exchange of information regarding the most difficult jobs to perform on the A400M.” 

The A400M loadmaster adds: “Close and transparent cooperation is required between both the partner nations and our industry partners in order to maintain a reliable, cost-effective and capable aircraft in the future.”

A400M Airbus employees customer


75 years of the 15th Wing 

This year marks 75 years of the 15th Wing and the Belgian Air Force has organised two open days - 27th and 28th May - at Melsbroek Air Base. It should prove an excellent opportunity for the general public to get up close and personal to this remarkable airlifter that, according to Commander Beeckmans, “will serve us well for the next 30 to 40 years”,  thereby proving what a tenacious aircraft the A400M truly is.

See and download all the photos and videos at the Media Centre.

*The names of the A400M pilot, loadmaster and mechanic have been omitted for security reasons.

Click here for more information on A400M