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Airbus A400M: Far side of the world

Line of Defence, Autumn 2017

Airbus Atlas A400M on the tarmac at Wellington AirportAirbus Atlas A400M on the tarmac at Wellington Airport


It’s big, it’s quiet, and it stops on a dime. A Royal Air Force Airbus A400M Atlas is in New Zealand, flown from its home in Oxfordshire to the far side of the world in a long-haul bid to woo potential customers, including the RNZAF.

The massive A400M Atlas cut a formidable figure at Wellington Airport on the eve of the RNZAF 80th anniversary Air Tattoo. It was in the capital to show off its capabilities to military and media representatives at 10,000 feet over Cook Strait, before flying its next leg to Ohakea for a static display at the show.

Flown in from the UK by the Royal Air Force and Airbus, the aircraft’s visit is timed for the Air Tattoo and – importantly – as part of Airbus’ NZ Future Air Mobility Capability pitch.

A collaborative venture involving six European countries, the A400M will be used by the RAF to support the deployment of the British Joint Rapid Reaction Force and provide interoperable airlift capable of supporting all three services.

According to RAF Wing Commander Simon Boyle, the RAF’s current fleet of 14 A400Ms will ultimately increase to a total complement of 22. Procured and envisaged as a tactical air transport platform, the Atlas is currently filling a strategic air transport role.

“It’s still early days for the A400M”, stated WGCDR Boyle, although the aircraft is “getting close to being able to operate strategically in a tactical environment”. Its tactical capabilities will be developed by the RAF over the next eight years.

The A400M has already supported the RAF’s Middle East operations in a freight capacity, he said.

Its suite of defensive aids include radio and infrared frequency detectors, electronic countermeasure equipment and chaff/flare dispensers.


The RAF A400M over the Cook Strait.The RAF A400M over the Cook Strait.


Impressed with the Atlas’ performance, WGCDR Boyle’s team flew its A400M from its base at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire via Iceland, continental USA, Hawaii and Fiji to Wellington.

The Atlas is capable of carrying a load of 25 tonnes over a range of 2,000 nautical miles at near-jet speed. WGCDR Boyle noted that his own crew had taken a 17 tonne payload 3,000 miles across the US in eight hours of flying time. Carrying 50 tonnes of fuel at medium weight, the aircraft’s four Europrop International turboprop engines burn fuel at the rate of approximately 4 tons per hour, he said.

On the question of whether or not the A400M was capable of a round trip from New Zealand to Antarctica and with how much of a payload, WGCDR Boyle said he’d need to look closely at the flight plan, but that it was ultimately up to Airbus to demonstrate to the RNZAF that the aircraft can meet its requirements.


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Capable of low-level (to 150ft) and high-level (to 40,000ft) flying, the aircraft can deploy troops and/or equipment either by parachute (up to 108 paratroopers) or by landing on short, unprepared or semi-prepared strips. It can be configured for a range of payloads, including troops, palletised cargo, military wheeled and tracked vehicles, two attack helicopters, one NH90 or CH-47 Chinook helicopter, or large lifting devices such as excavators or mobile cranes for disaster relief assistance.


Inside the A400M.Inside the A400M.


Airbus A400M Atlas Specs

Engines: Four EPI TP400-D6 turboprops

Thrust: 11,000shp each

Maximum speed: 410kts

Maximum altitude: 40,000ft

Length: 45.1m

Span: 42.4m

Aircrew: 3


Line of Defence Magazine travelled to Wellington courtesy of Airbus.


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