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Airbus A400M – The Game Changer in Military Transport

By Rob Russell

The A400M is the most advanced, proven and certified airlifter available, combining state-of-the-art technologies to fulfil the current and upcoming armed forces’ needs. It combines three missions into one. The A400M was launched in May 2003 to respond to the combined needs of seven European Nations regrouped within OCCAR – Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation - (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, Spain, Turkey and the UK), with Malaysia joining in 2005.

The A400M assembly takes place in Spain; with the wings (largely designed with composite materials) being manufactured in the UK, and the fuselage being built in Germany. More than 30 per cent of the aircraft structure is made of composite materials. The 42.4m span wing is primarily made of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic components, including the wing spars, the 19m long, 12–14mm thick wing skins, and other parts. The wing weighs about 6,500kg, and it can carry and lift up to 25,000kg of fuel. It has an aspect ratio of 8.1, a wide chord of 5.6m, and a sweep angle of 15 degrees at 25 per cent mean aerodynamic chord.

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 later. The A400M already has seen operational use with the French and Turkish Air Forces in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the African Sahel Region, Mali and in the Middle East to support the air operations over Iraq and Syria. It is in daily use in support of the British operations, with one each being based at Port Stanley and RAF Akrotiri

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 mainly the C130, Antonov 12 and to a lesser degree the Transall C160 (which is largely being phased out by the French and German Air Forces and replaced by the A400) , such as a heavy helicopter, an infantry fighting vehicle or a newer generation tank. Thanks to its combined strategic and tactical capabilities, the A400M has delivered better range, speed, altitude, payload and tactical performance than the older generation transporters. The aircraft has also demonstrated its worth in supporting humanitarian and disaster relief operations as well as VIP transport.

Tactical Capabilities

Previous-generation tactical transporters have good tactical performance but cannot carry the outsize military and humanitarian relief loads because their cargo holds are too small. Many of the older aircraft were designed before modern army equipment was designed and built and accordingly, are unable to carry much of the modern equipment. The A400M is a larger and more versatile aircraft designed for today’s requirements and those of the future. Thanks to its good 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, height of up to four metres, and usable length of 17.7 metres.

The A400M excels in the air-drop role, being able to drop from both high and low altitudes. It can carry more paratroopers than other Western-built propeller-driven military transport. Airbus Defence and Space is setting new standards in Para dropping operations. The A400M can accommodate up to 116 fully equipped paratroopers, transporting 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. Careful aerodynamic design reduces turbulence behind the aircraft and deployable baffles at the door exits protect jumpers from the airflow. As an added safety feature, 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 altitudes.

The A400M can also drop 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.

Medical Evacuations

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.

Strategic Capabilities

The A400M is equipped with four EuroProp International (EPI) TP 400 turboprop engines, enabling it to carry a full load and 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. With in-flight refuelling, the equipment which comes as standard, range can be unlimited. It has also been certified to 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.

Air-to-air refuelling

Designed from the beginning to be adapted to a dual-role transport and tanker aircraft, much in line with the concept of the A330MRTT, 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. 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.

The 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.

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 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 fast jets, including fighters (such as the Eurofighter) larger aircraft (such as the C295) or even another A400M for buddy refuelling.


To date 119 have been delivered, out of a total order of 178.

Deliveries have been made to Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Indonesia and Kazakhstan.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 3 or 4 (2 pilots, 3rd optional, 1 loadmaster)

  • Capacity: 37,000kg (81,600 lb) 116 fully equipped troops/paratroopers up to 66 stretchers accompanied by 25 medical personnel

  • Cargo Compartment: width 4.00m x height 3.85m x length 17.71m (without ramp 5.40 m

  • Length: 45.1m

  • Wingspan: 42.4m

  • Height: 14.7m

  • Wing area: 225.1m²

  • Empty weight: 78,600 kg

  • Max takeoff weight: 141,000kg

  • Fuel capacity: 50,500kg internal fuel

  • Max landing weight: 123,000kg

  • Powerplant:4 × Europrop TP400-D6 turboprop, 8,200kW (11,000hp) each

  • Propellers: 8-bladed Ratier-Figeac variable pitch propellers with feathering and reversing capability, 5.3m diameter

  • PerformanceMaximum speed: Mach 0.72

  • Cruise speed: 422kn at 31,000 ft

  • Initial cruise altitude: 29,000 ft) at MTOW

  • Range: 2,100 mi, 1,800 nmi at max payload

  • Range with 30-tonne payload: 2,450 nmi

  • Range with 20-tonne payload: 3,450 nmi

  • Ferry range: 5,400mi

  • Service ceiling: 40,000ft

  • Wing loading:637kg/m²

  • Tactical takeoff distance: 980m

  • Tactical landing distance: 770m

  • Turning radius (ground):28.6m



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