The Royal Air Forcetook delivery of the first Airbus A400M Atlas aircraft during an official ceremony, held at RAF Brize Norton, on 17 November 2014. The arrival of ZM400 heralds the staged delivery of a further 21 aircraft, in a schedule expected to be complete by 2019. Although the RAF will employ the A400M's strategic reach and impressive payload capacity by initially operating it in the strategic air transport role, Atlas is primarily a tactical airlifter. Its tactical capabilities will be developed over the next 8 years as it assumes the roles performed by the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules prior to the C-130’s planned retirement from RAF service in 2022.
Number LXX Squadron is the first operational Airbus A400M Atlas Squadron. The Squadron stood-up in an administrative and engineering support capacity on 1 October 2014. In September 2015 the Squadron began air transport tasking with its small, but growing cadre of trained aircrew.
Number XXIV Squadron, the Fixed Wing AirMobility Operational Conversion Unit, is responsible for conductingtraining for Atlas aircrew and engineering personnel. Additionally No. 206(R) Squadron conduct test andevaluation as part of the aircraft’s capability development process.
- Engines: Four EPI TP400-D6 turboprops
- Thrust: 11,000shp each
- Max speed: 410kts
- Max altitude: 40,000ft
- Length: 45.1m
- Span: 42.4m
- Aircrew: 3
Who Will Operate the Atlas
- No. XXIV Squadron - RAF Brize Norton (Fixed Wing Air Mobility Operational Conversion Unit)
- No. LXX Squadron - RAF Brize Norton (Operational Squadron)
- No. 206(R) Squadron - RAF Brize Norton (Aircraft Capability Development)
The Airbus A400M, which is a collaborative venture involving the governments and industries of six European countries, will support the deployment of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force and will give the RAF a tactical and strategic-airlift aircraft capable of supporting all three services and be interoperable with other nations.
The aircraft is capable of carrying a load of 25 tonnes over a range of 2000nmls at speeds comparable with pure-jet military transports. It is capable of operating either at low-level (down to 150ft agl) or at high-level altitudes to 40,000ft, and it is able to deploy troops and/or equipment between and within theatres of operation either by parachute (up to 108 paratroopers), or by landing on short, unprepared or semi-prepared strips. It also offers significant improvements in reliability, maintenance and operating costs over the C-130J Hercules fleet.
The two-pilot flight deck crew will have the benefit of an integrated, digital avionics system in the cockpit and a fly-by-wire control system. Additional systems will provide a night-vision-compatible glass cockpit complete with two head-up displays supported by at least five multi-function displays that will allow state-of-the-art avionics developments to be incorporated to the flight-deck design, so greatly reducing crew workload.
The aircraft is driven by four Europrop International (EPI) turboprop engines, which will be the most powerful turboprops developed to date in the western world, they will be lighter, easy to maintain and will consume 20% less fuel per mission relative to a similar turbofan engine.
A modern Defensive Aids Suite is fitted, incorporating radio and infra-red frequency detectors, electronic-countermeasure equipment and chaff/flare dispensers. The cargo bay of the Atlas is controlled by one Air Loadmaster, and can be configured for a number of roles: pure troop carrying, or a mixture of troops and support equipment; palletised cargo or military wheeled and tracked vehicles; two attack helicopters such as the Apache or Puma; or a mixture of light and heavy engineering equipment.
Off-loading equipment or stores after landing can be achieved using conventional ground equipment, the aircraft’s internal load-roller system, by airborne parachute or by gravity extraction from the aircraft’s rear ramp.
In addition to its tactical capability Atlas will complement the C-17A Globemaster III in providing the UK with a strategic airlift capability when and wherever it is required.
A400M Atlas – A 'Spotters' Guide
The next generation of Tactical Air Transport capability for the RAF is the Airbus A400M 'Atlas'.
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About the Aircraft
The Airbus A400M Atlas isn’t a C-17A Globemaster III and (although the visuals are closer) nor is it C-130 Hercules - but then it isn’t supposed to be! Atlas is designed and scheduled to replace the C-130J in the tactical air transport and special forces’ support roles and to complement Voyager and the C-17 in providing air mobility to the Future Forces.
With the future forces likely to be reliant on bulky, heavy protected mobility vehicles and humanitarian operations looking to deliver relief more quickly to more remote or desolate regions, the Atlas requirement was: ‘to deliver what you can’t get into a Hercules into landing zones that a C-17 can’t get into’.
Delving into a little technical detail, this article is a gallop through some of key design areas that are needed to meet the challenge
The Business End. As with all air mobility aircraft, one of the most important features of A400M Atlas is the cargo bay. The A400M is capable of carrying up to 37 tonnes of payload with the cargo hold dimensions optimised for carriage of heavy vehicles, helicopters or cargo pallets along the central cargo area and troops seated at either side. For combat operations, Atlas can carry protected vehicles with side armour and top-mounted guns fitted allowing a deploying force to arrive ready to fight. In the humanitarian role, it can deploy a mobile crane or an excavator and large dump truck for clearing earthquake sites.
Treading Softly. Each Atlas main landing gear unit consists of three independent struts with twin wheel and brake assemblies and is designed to operate in rugged terrain and to evenly distribute ground loads into the fuselage structure. Braking is provided through 12 multi-disc carbon brakes units which are at the heart of the aircraft’s impressive short-field performance.
A Level Playing Field? Atlas will often find itself operating from austere or unprepared surfaces and with rudimentary loading vehicles. In these circumstances, the air loadmaster, can manipulate the landing gear to make the aircraft ‘kneel’ and ‘roll’ in order to make load transfers easier and faster. Symmetrical kneeling of the main landing gear legs is used to adjust the height and longitudinal inclination of the cargo hold floor. Asymmetrical rolling can be used to compensate for differences in shock absorber compression, or when the aircraft is parked on uneven ground.
On British Wings. The wings for all 174 Atlas aircraft will be made in Filton near Bristol and benefit from the UK’s position as a global leader in wing design and technology. Advanced 3D computational fluid dynamics has been used to optimise the wing shape, resulting in a low drag design which permits a high cruise speed of Mach 0.72, without compromising low speed performance and handling. But it is not just the shape of the wing which is ‘special’. The wing forms part of about 30% of the Atlas structure which is made of composite materials. This includes the wings’ 19m (62ft) skin panels which are the largest ever produced and, for the first time in history, a main spar which is made from composites. The extensive use of composite material enables Atlas to be much lighter and enhances the aircraft’s performance both in terms of range and payload.
The Driving Force. One of the key elements of the Atlas’s versatility is its all-new, specifically designed three-shaft turboprop engine with iconic scimitar-shaped, eight-bladed propellers. At 11,000 shp, the ‘TP400’ is the most powerful turboprop in production. It allows a wide range of speeds and flight levels and offers extremely efficient fuel consumption. Four of these turboprops allow Atlas to operate at altitudes as high as 37,000 ft at speeds up to Mach 0.72. At the other end of the ‘envelope’, the A400M can safely operate at 110 kt at low level to drop equipment and supplies.
Down Between the Engines? One of the most notable differences between Atlas and other turboprop aircraft is that the two propellers on each wing turn in opposite directions (towards each other). This ‘Down Between the Engines’ counter-rotation produces a more symmetrical airflow over the wing, which improves lift, aircraft handling and stability. As well as allowing a reduction in the structural weight of the wing, the arrangement reduces the adverse yaw in case of an engine failure and gives a 4% increase in the lift at low speed and reduces the level of vibrations and therefore the noise inside the aircraft.
A Fully-Loaded Flight Deck! The Atlas cockpit comes fully loaded with pilot’s ‘toys’. It features Head-up-Dispays(HUD) which provide the pilots with all primary flight information together with eight large interchangeable LCD head-down displays. There is also an Enhanced Vision System (EVS) based on Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) technology which, in low visibility conditions can project an image of the environment in front of the aircraft onto the HUD.