In Greek mythology, Atlas carried the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. Today, a modern version of Atlas – Airbus’ A400M multi-role transport – has confirmed its capabilities as a highly versatile military heavy-lifter, which is underscored by the aircraft’s presence at this week’s Dubai Airshow.
Exhibited on the static display line at Dubai World Central is a Royal Air Force A400M operated by LXX Squadron, which was conducting Atlas demonstrations in the region prior to the aircraft’s participation in the Dubai Airshow. LXX squadron was the UK military service’s first operational squadron with the A400M.
“In operational service, the A400M is proving its capability to provide strategic airlift into tactical locations”
Ioannis Papachristofilou, Head of Marketing - Airbus Defence and Space
In a briefing to international journalists during the Dubai Airshow, Ioannis Papachristofilou, the Head of Marketing for Airbus Defence and Space, described the A400M as “the game-changer” for military airlifters.
He said the Atlas’ capabilities are best summarised by a “model” mission that highlights the A400M’s versatility. “With its ability to accommodate outsize and heavy loads of up to 37 metric tonnes, the A400M can fly at high speeds and altitudes to strategic distances for double the range of medium airlifters, and then deliver its payloads in truly tactical environments – from airdrops to landings at austere airfields and on beaches.”
Airbus has provided 85 A400Ms to the military services of six countries, with 31 for Germany, 20 received by the UK, 15 delivered to France, nine for Turkey, six for Spain, and four delivered to Malaysia.
These aircraft have logged a combined total of more than 60,000 flight hours, performing tactical and logistics missions in Africa and the Middle East, while also supporting humanitarian missions around the globe.
Operational examples include the A400M’s role in a Spanish Air Force Eurofighter combat aircraft deployment to Latvia as part of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) operation, with the Atlas demonstrating its fast response, high-altitude cruise and the ability to be fully integrated into civilian airspace.
The German Air Force utilised the A400M’s air-to-air refuelling capabilities when deploying combat aircraft to the Middle East. As a tanker, the A400M can “top off” two combat aircraft simultaneously using its hose-and-drogue refuelling pods located under each wing while carrying up to 50.8 tonnes of fuel internally without comprising its cargo hold area.
For the Royal Air Force, an A400M has been permanently positioned in the Falkland Islands to replace a Hercules airlifter, conducting maritime surveillance missions and search & rescue duties, along with medical evacuation – all while benefitting from its longer range and endurance when compared to legacy aircraft. Another A400M advantage is the pre-programming of SAR flight patterns into the Atlas’ flight management system, enabling these patterns to be flown by the autopilot.
The French Air Force airdropped supplies for the Kidal Air Base in Mali, where the France-led “Operation Barkhane” is performing counter-terrorism actions across Africa's Sahel region. An A400M can airdrop 16 tonnes on a single load, and up to 25 tonnes on a single pass for multiple loads.
Numerous humanitarian assistance missions have been flown by A400Ms, including operations to Mozambique with aircraft from the UK, Spain and Turkey for victims of Cyclone Idai. In Indonesia, the Royal Malaysian Air Force participated in disaster relief after the 2018 earthquake and tsunami, with the A400M delivering fuel trucks, excavators and supplies – being the only airlifter utilising the earthquake-damaged runway at Palu, landing in less than 800 metres.
During Airbus’ press briefing for journalists at the Dubai Airshow, Papachristofilou updated reporters with the A400M’s latest programme achievements, including certification of the aircraft’s full capability on unpaved runways. This covers hard soil, natural surfaces with vegetation, soft natural surfaces and beach operations – with such environments used in actual operations by the A400M’s military services.
Airbus also has delivered a runway surface assessment tool called “ASSUR,” which the company developed to assist operators in surface survey and operations planning when the unpaved runways are utilised by the A400M.
Other achievement are the validation of aerial delivery with up to 58 paratroopers per single door, and up to 80 through simultaneous door dispatch from both sides of the aircraft; as well as the first aerial refuelling contacts with helicopters – using increased-length hoses of 120 feet.