The A400M "Atlas" is the most advanced, proven and certified airlifter available, combining 21st century state-of-the-art technologies to fulfil the current and upcoming armed forces’ needs.
The A400M combines the capability to carry strategic loads with the ability to deliver even into tactical locations with small and unprepared airstrips and can act as a frontline-tanker. One aircraft that can do the work of three – the A400M.
Orders & Deliveries
|Total in Operation||108|
A400M – Three missions in one
Tactical airlift mission capability
Tactical airlift describes the transport and delivery of personnel and goods directly into theatres of operation. This includes landing on frontline air bases, landing on a grass and/or sand strip as well as the delivery of paratroopers or pallets by air drop. Also on tactical delivery missions, the A400M delivers heavier and larger loads than its competitors.
Strategic airlift mission capability
Strategic airlift means the transport of strategic assets like outsized and heavy vehicles or equipment. Large cargo hold dimensions and a high payload capacity are required to match the whole range of modern military vehicles, helicopters, modular relief equipment, intermodal containers and heavy engineering equipment. The A400M outperforms all of today’s available platforms in these aspects. The aircraft has not only proven better range, speed, altitude, and payload performance than previous generation tactical airlifters, it also fills a gap between strategic and tactical lift.
Air-to-air refuelling mission capability
Standalone, as a perfect complement to a strategic tanker or for front-line re-fuelling missions from tactical locations, the A400M refuels drogue-receivers and increase flexibility and availability of other air assets.
Key figures and specifications
|Maximum range||4,800 nm (8900 km)|
|High speed||M 0.72|
|Cargo hold volume||340 m³|
|Delivery heavy payloads||Up to 37 tons|
The A400M is the proven, certified and in-operations most advanced airlifter with 21st century state-of-the-art technologies. The A400M can airlift in its large cargo bay most of the critical armed forces equipment that no longer fits in previous generation tactical airlifters, such as a heavy helicopter, an infantry fighting vehicle or a humanitarian excavator. Thanks to its combined strategic and tactical capabilities, the A400M has proven better range, speed, altitude, payload and tactical performance than previous-generation tactical airlifters, enabling the delivery of game-changing capabilities to the point of need, such as next to a natural disaster or a theatre of operations where strategic airlifters cannot operate. The A400M enables cost-effective and rapid response to crises. The aircraft has also demonstrated its worth in supporting humanitarian and disaster relief operations as well as VIP transport.
The A400M was launched in May 2003 to respond to the combined needs of seven European Nations regrouped within OCCAR (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, Spain, Turkey and the UK), with Malaysia joining in 2005. The A400M assembly takes place in Spain; the wings (largely designed with composite materials) are manufactured in the UK, while the fuselage is built in Germany.
The A400M made its first flight on 11 December 2009. The first production aircraft was delivered to the French Air Force in August 2013 and entered into service a year after. The A400M already has seen operational use with the French and Turkish Air Forces in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, African Sahel Region, Mali and in the Middle East to support the air operations over Iraq and Syria.
Previous-generation tactical airlifters have good tactical performance but cannot carry the outsize military and humanitarian relief loads because their cargo holds are too small. Current strategic aircraft are good outsize-load airlifters but are costly and have limited tactical capability as they cannot operate from soft fields. The A400M is a larger, more modern, truly versatile aircraft specifically designed for today’s requirements and those of the future. Thanks to its good tactical performance and the ability to carry overweight loads over long distances, the A400M fills the current logistic and tactical capability gap. With the cockpit flight deck located at the very front of the fuselage, much of the internal space is reserved for cargo; the aircraft’s internal dimensions include a cargo hold usable width of four metres/13 ft 1 in, height of up to four metres/13 ft 1 in, and usable length of 17.7 metres/58 ft.
With a maximum payload of up to 37 tonnes (81,600 lb) and a volume of 340 m3(12,000 ft3), the A400M can carry numerous pieces of outsize cargo, including vehicles and helicopters that are too large or too heavy for previous generation tactical airlifters, for example an NH90 or a CH-47 Chinook helicopter or a heavy infantry fighting vehicle for military purposes. It can also carry a heavy logistic truck, a rescue boat or large lifting devices, such as excavators or mobile cranes needed to assist in disaster relief.
Personnel and troops
In 2020 the A400M successfully completed the certification flights for the alternate and simultaneous airdrop of up to 116 paratroopers, 58 per door.
The A400M is the only large airlifter that can fly heavy and outsize equipment directly to the point of need, able to land virtually everywhere. The A400M is designed to operate efficiently from austere airfields, with unpaved airstrips, short runways, limited space for parking or manoeuvring and no ground facilities – conditions that present severe constraints for any tactical airlifter. The A400M is able to land on and take-off from any short, soft and rough unprepared CBR 6 (pavement classification) airstrip under 750 m/2,500 ft, while delivering up to 25 tonnes/55,000 lb of payload and with enough fuel on board for a 930 km/500 nm return trip.
The autonomous capability of the A400M enables operations from remote austere airstrips. By minimising time on the ground, the A400M’s systems reduce the aircraft’s vulnerability to hostile action. The state-of-the-art digital load master work station (LMWS) enables full management of the Cargo Handling System and monitoring of aerial delivery operations. The cargo floor can be re-configured very quickly, as rollers can be manually and easily turned upside down by a single operator in order to have rollers either down for flat floor configuration or up for pallet configuration. The main landing gear can be kneeled to lower the rear of the aircraft in order to adjust the height from cargo floor to ground and reduce the crest angle formed between the ramp and the cargo floor when the ramp is deployed to the ground.
High speed/high altitude
Thanks to its state-of-the-art technologies, including its four unique EuroProp International (EPI) TP 400 turboprop engines, the A400M has the capability to fly distances up to 4,800 nm/8,900 km, at a cruising altitude up to 37,000 ft/11,300 m, and at a speed of up to Mach 0.72, very similar to that of a turbofan powered airlifter. It can even fly up to 40,000 ft/12,200 m for special operations.
This gives the potential for strategic/logistic missions. Flying faster, the A400M can respond more rapidly to crises because greater distances can be flown in one crew duty day. Also, as it can fly higher, the aircraft can cruise above poor weather and turbulence found at medium altitudes, resulting in less fatigue for the crews, passengers or troops alike.
Designed from the outset to be a dual-role transport and tanker aircraft, the A400M provides air forces with a cost-effective way to acquire an air-to-air (AAR) refuelling capability in addition to a versatile logistic and tactical airlifter.
The standard A400M aircraft has much of the equipment and software provisions for two-point air-to-air refuelling operations already installed as standard. Any A400M can be rapidly reconfigured to become a tactical two-point tanker able to refuel probe-equipped receivers at their preferred speeds and altitudes.
With a basic fuel capacity of 63,500 litres (50,800 kg), which can be even further increased with additional cargo hold tanks, the A400M is the most capable tactical tanker on the market.
Airbus completed certification flight tests for the A400M Cargo Hold Tanks (CHT) refuelling unit in 2019, taking a major step toward the aircraft’s full certification for aerial tanker duties.
Air-to-air refuelling can be done either through two wing-mounted hose and drogue under-wing refuelling pods or through a centre-line.
The two hose and drogue under-wing refuelling pods can each provide a fuel flow of up to 400 US gal/1,200 kg per minute to receiver aircraft. Refuelling can also be done through a centre-line hose and drum unit (HDU), which provides a higher fuel flow of some 600 US gal/1,800 kg per minute. The A400M is the only tactical tanker offering a third refuelling point for large aircraft refuelling and as an alternative to pods. To monitor day and night air-to-air refuelling operations, the A400M can be fitted with three cameras controlled from the cockpit by the co-pilot, suppressing the need for visual observers.
Refuelling any probe-equipped aircraft
The A400M is the only tanker that can refuel the entire range of probe-equipped military aircraft at their preferred speeds and altitudes. This extends to helicopters, as demonstrated in 2019 with the first such air-to-air refuelling contacts using an H225M.
Thanks to its powerful turboprops, the A400M can fly both at the low speeds and low altitudes to refuel slow receivers as well as at higher speeds and altitudes of about 300 knots and altitudes around 25,000 ft. These are typically used for refuelling of fast jets, including fighters (such as the Eurofighter) or larger aircraft (such as the C295) or even another A400M for buddy refuelling.
The A400M excels in the airdrop role, being able to drop from both high and low altitudes. With the new A400M, which can carry more paratroopers than other western-built military transport, Airbus Defence and Space is setting new standards in paradropping operations.
The A400M can accommodate up to 116 fully equipped paratroopers, carrying them to the parachute drop zone at speeds up to 300 knots, but dropping them at as little as 110 knots to ensure minimum dispersion. Crucially, two streams of paratroopers can jump simultaneously from the ramp or the two side doors to further cut jumping time and scatter. Careful aerodynamic design reduces turbulence behind the aircraft and deployable baffles at the door exits protect jumpers from the airflow. The aircraft is also fitted with a winch, allowing any “hung-up” static-line paratrooper to be safely retrieved. The low speed characteristics make the A400M ideal for dropping supplies from low altitude.
The A400M can airdrop up to 25 tonnes/55,100 lb of containers or pallets through gravity and parachute extraction. The computed air release point (CARP), linked to the automated release system, automatically identifies the release point for optimum delivery accuracy, including corrections for wind effects.
Since entering service, the A400M has been deployed to support a variety of humanitarian relief efforts around the globe – including the delivery of relief material following Hurricane Irma in 2017 and the 2018 earthquake that rocked Indonesia, among others.
The A400M is equipped with eight stretchers as standard, which are permanently stored on board, but it can accommodate as many as 66 standard NATO stretchers and 25 medical personnel seated on troop seats. It has the range, speed, operating altitude and comfort to optimally serve the medical evacuation role.
The A400M has been specifically designed for low detectability, low vulnerability and high survivability. The aircraft’s excellent self-protection and survivability come from its high manoeuvrability, enhanced low-level flight capability, steep descent and climb performance, short landing and take-off performance, tactical landing capability, damage-tolerant flight controls, armoured cockpit and bullet-resistant windscreens, the use of inert gas in the fuel tanks as well as the segregated routing of hydraulics and wiring. The A400M configurations also include chaff and flare – countermeasures used by military planes and helicopters to help evade a missile attack by an enemy aircraft. With its minimal infrared signature EPI TP 400 turboprops, highly responsive fly-by-wire flight controls, four independent control computers, comprehensive defensive aids, and damage tolerant controls, the A400M is hard to find, hard to hit and hard to kill.
#A400M Flying Airbus’ next-generation airlifter
The A400M is the “topic du jour” for Airbus’ latest podcast, including insights from someone who knows this advanced military aircraft inside and out: Jon Taylor, an experimental test pilot at Airbus Defence and Space.
Based at the San Pablo site near Seville, Spain – where A400Ms are assembled – Taylor says it’s a privilege to fly the aircraft and underscores key capabilities that set it apart from the competition, both now and for the years to come.
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