The Boeing C-17 & Airbus A400M

v1.0.2 / 01 dec 17 / greg goebel

* In the 1980s, following experiments with demonstrators for short-field transport aircraft in the 1970s, the US Air Force began development of a new large military transport, which would emerge as the McDonnell-Douglas, later Boeing, "C-17" in the 1990s. The USAF would acquire a large fleet of C-17s. In the meantime, a group of European countries were working towards a new cargolifter of their own, which would emerge after 2010 as the "Airbus A400M", and which is now going into service. This document provides a history and description of the C-17 and A400M.

Boeing C-17

[2] AMST: YC-14 & YC-15
[3] C-17 ORIGINS


* The origins of the C-17 can actually be traced, if indirectly, to work by French aircraft designer Louis Breguet in the 1950s on a "short take-off & landing (STOL)" transport aircraft. To explore his concepts, following construction of subscale models, Breguet's firm built the "Breguet 940 Integral" demonstrator, which performed its initial flight on 21 May 1958. Louis Breguet did not live to see it fly, having died in 1955 after a life of distinction as one of the pioneers of aviation.

The Breguet 940 was a boxy aircraft of modest size for a cargolifter, with a length of 15.2 meters (50 feet), a wingspan of 18 meters (59 feet), and a loaded weight of 7,710 kilograms (17,000 pounds). It had a high-mounted straight wing, an upraised tail with a loading ramp, a twin-fin tail, and fixed tricycle landing gear. It was powered by four Turbomeca Turmo II turboprop engines providing 300 kW (400 SHP) each, with a power coupling scheme linking all four engines to ensure uniform power settings, and so that one could fail without shutting down its prop. The inboard and outboard engines rotated in opposite directions to cancel torque. The wing had oversized slotted flaps across the rear. The turboprops were positioned uniformly along the wing, the outboard engines being near the wingtips, ensuring that the flaps were fully blown by the engines during takeoffs and landings.

STOL performance with this "blown wing" arrangement was excellent, and so in early 1960, the French government ordered a prototype of a full-scale derivative, the "Breguet 941". Initial flight was on 1 June 1961. The Breguet 941 had very generally the same configuration as the Breguet 940 -- boxy fuselage, tail with loading ramp, high wing with four turboprop engines and extensive rear flaps -- but it was well bigger, with over twice the loaded weight; had a single-fin tail with a forward fin fillet; and proper retractable landing gear. Powerplants were the Turmo IIID, each engine with 930 kW (1,250 SHP) each. The machine had retractable tricycle landing gear, all gear assemblies having twin wheels; the main gear wheels were in tandem and retracted into sponsons alongside the fuselage, being semi-exposed after retraction.

Breguet 940 & 941S

The Breguet 941 was refined into the "Breguet 941S", which was longer, featuring a radar nose, and had more powerful Turmo IIID3 engines with 1,120 kW (1,500 SHP). It could carry 40 fully equipped troops, or 24 stretchers along with medical attendants. Initial flight was on 19 April 1967, with four built, to serve with the Armee de l'Air, the French Air Force, into the mid-1970s. Two of them survive on static display. Incidentally, photos of the 941S coming in for a landing seem to show it about to crash, but with flaps deployed it had a strong "nose down" orientation, and it was actually flying much closer to the level.

   BREGUET 941S:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                23.4 meters         76 feet 4 inches
   wing area:              83.8 sq_meters      902 sq_feet
   length                  23.75 meters        77 feet 11 inches
   height                  9.65 meters         55 feet 1 inches 
   empty weight            13,460 kilograms    29,610 pounds
   MTO weight              26,500 kilograms    58,420 pounds

   max speed               450 KPH             280 MPH / 240 KT 
   takeoff run, laden      185 meters          610 feet
   service ceiling         9,500 meters        31,200 feet
   range                   1,000 KM            620 MI / 540 NMI

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

There was also design work towards a "Breguet 942", with an airliner fuselage for commercial operations, and a "Breguet 945", cut down in size and with twin Turmo engines, for tactical operations. Neither ever flew: as was often the problem with STOL machines, their added utility was not seen as enough to compensate for their higher cost. The idea of operating airliners out of a large number of small airports was also of questionable practicality, in an era of largely manual air traffic control.

Breguet worked with the McDonnell company of the US on a license production deal, with McDonnell flying the Breguet 941 prototype on demonstration flights in company colors in 1964, the machine being designated the "McDonnell 188" for the exercise, which targeted military users. The aircraft was damaged during one demonstration, being brought back up to flight status after eight months of work.

The second Brequet 941S machine was similarly demonstrated in 1967 as the "McDonnell 188E" -- this time around targeting commercial users, the machine flying in American Airlines and Eastern Airlines colors. It was also damaged and repaired, the repair exercises giving McDonnell engineers a good understanding of the engineering of the machine. McDonnell and Douglas merged in that year to become "McDonnell-Douglas". Nothing came of the exercise at the time, but MDD engineers got a lot of ideas about how to build a STOL aircraft that they would put to use later.


[2] AMST: YC-14 & YC-15

* In 1971, the US Air Force Tactical Air Command decided to initiate a competition for a new tactical cargolifter with STOL capability to replace the C-130 Hercules. The effort was given the designation "Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST)". The proposal stipulated an operational radius of 930 kilometers (575 miles / 500 NMI) with a 12,000 kilogram (27,000 pound) payload, operating off a rough airstrip with a length of 610 meters (2,000 feet). That was half the field length for a C-130.

Five US aircraft companies submitted proposals for the AMST, with Boeing and McDonnell Douglas selected to each build two prototypes for evaluation. The Boeing entry, the "Model 953", had twin engines; it was given the military designation of "YC-14". The MDD entry, the "YC-15", had four engines. The YC-15 beat the YC-14 into the air, the first YC-15 prototype performing its initial flight on 16 August 1975, the second getting into the air in December. Initial flight of the first YC-14 prototype was on 9 August 1976, the second becoming available before the beginning of trials at Edwards Air Force base in November 1976. The program stretchout was due to funding cuts to AMST.

* The YC-14 had a configuration with many similarities to other jet cargolifters, with a wide body; main landing gear mounted in fuselage sponsons to prevent obstruction of the cargo bay; a high-mounted wing plus a tee tail; and a high tail with doors and a loading ramp, the doors capable of being opened in flight for airdrops. Where it significantly differed was in the mounting of its twin turbofan engines above and well forward of the wing, with the exhaust from the engines blown over the wing to improve lift and short-field capability, a scheme known as "upper surface blowing (USB)".

Boeing YC-14

The YC-14 featured a straight wing and tailplane, the tailplane mounted on a swept tailfin. The wing features a "supercritical" airfoil section, which managed to achieve good flight efficiencies at high and low speeds, and was particularly well-suited to a cargolifter. The aircraft was powered by twin General Electric (GE) CF6-50D turbofans, with 227 kN (23,120 kgp / 51,000 lbf) thrust each and thrust reversers. The "overwing" configuration also helped reduce the aircraft's infrared signature, lowering its vulnerability to surface-to-air missiles (SAM).

The nose gear had twin wheels and apparently retracted forward; each main gear assembly having four wheels in a 2x2 configuration and retracting upward sponsons into its stowage. The C-17 could carry up to 150 troops or 31,400 kilograms (69,400 pounds) of cargo, though the load was limited to 12,300 kilograms (27,000 pounds), as above, to meet short-field spec. There was a crew door on the left front fuselage; if there were any other doors besides the tail doors, it is unclear where they were.

   BOEING YC-14:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                39.32 meters        129 feet
   wing area:              163.7 sq_meters     1,762 sq_feet
   length                  40.14 meters        131 feet 8 inches
   height                  14.68 meters        48 feet 2 inches 
   empty weight            53,410 kilograms    117,500 pounds
   MTO weight              113,375 kilograms   250,000 pounds

   max speed               800 KPH             500 MPH / 435 KT 
   service ceiling         13,700 meters       45,000 feet
   range, STOL spec        930 KM              575 MI / 500 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

* The YC-15 was of similar size to the YC-14 and had a broadly comparable configuration -- the greatest difference being, as mentioned, four engines, mounted under the wing. The powerplants were Pratt & Whitney (P&W) JT8D-17 turbofans, used on the Boeing 727 and Douglas DC-9, with 72.5 kN (7,255 kgp / 16,000 lbf) thrust each. It leveraged off the Breguet 941S by using much the same blown flaps scheme, but otherwise the Breguet 941S was no more than a source of inspiration for the YC-15 design.


The YC-15 otherwise shared a substantial amount with the YC-14, featuring a high-mounted straight supercritical wing and tailplane; swept tailfin; tricycle landing gear, two wheels on the nose gear, four wheels in 2x2 configuration for each main gear assembly, the main gear retracting into sponsons alongside the fuselage; high tail with tail doors and loading ramp; and crew door on the left forward fuselage. Again, if there were other doors, it's unclear where they were. Subsystems for the YC-15 were scavenged from a wide variety of other aircraft. Since the YC-14 and YC-15 were designed to the same spec, of course the YC-15 had similar load specifications as the YC-14.

   MDD YC-15:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan*               40.4 meters         132 feet 7 inches
   wingspan*               33.6 meters         110 feet 4 inches
   wing area:              162 sq_meters       1,740 sq_feet
   length                  37.9 meters         124 feet 3 inches
   height                  13.2 meters         43 feet 4 inches 
   empty weight            47,600 kilograms    105,000 pounds
   MTO weight              98,285 kilograms    216,680 pounds

   max speed               860 KPH             535 MPH / 465 KT 
   service ceiling         13,700 meters       45,000 feet
   range, STOL spec        930 KM              575 MI / 500 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   * The two demonstrators had different spans.

Trials of the YC-14 and YC-15 went on into 1977, both aircraft meeting spec, after some tweaking, for the AMST program. However, then the Air Force decided that the service needed airlifters for both the tactical and strategic roles, and the AMST demonstrators didn't look like a good fit. The Air Force cancelled the AMST program and neither aircraft was put into production. The Soviet Antonov design bureau did design a transport designated the "An-72" that also used the high-engine configuration of the Boeing YC-14.

The YC-14s and YC-15s were put into storage at the "boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona; one each ended up at the nearby Pima Air Museum. The YC-15 at the museum was later refurbished by MDD for trials, taking to the air again in 1997; it was badly damaged by an inflight engine failure the next year, and didn't fly again. It eventually ended up on display at Edwards Air Force base, while the other YC-15 was scrapped. At last notice, both YC-14s were still in existence, though they had clearly seen better days.


[3] C-17 ORIGINS

* The YC-15 would lead to something bigger and better. In the wake of the cancellation of AMST, in February 1980 the USAF issued a "C-X" requirement for a heavy tactical transport to replace the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter. Boeing, Lockheed, and McDonnell Douglas submitted proposals, the Boeing submission being along the lines of an enlarged YC-14 with a third engine in the tail, with Lockheed proposing a derivative of the company's L-1011 Tristar jetliner, as well as a beefed-up C-141 derivative.

The McDonnell Douglas submission, which was clearly derived from the YC-15 but was scaled up and had many changes, was declared the winner in August 1981. However, the program then stalled, since the USAF was diverted in their transport plans by a 1982 decision to buy 50 new-build Lockheed C-5B heavy lifters, as well as 44 (later 60) McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender tanker / cargolifter variants of the company's DC-10-30CF commercial airliner.

The requirement for a tactical airlifter didn't go away, and in September 1983 a new Air Force "Master Airlift Plan" committed the service to high-priority development of the McDonnell Douglas "C-17A Globemaster III", as the new transport had become known, with first flight in August 1990 and a planned total buy of 210 machines. Unfortunately, the zigs and zags of the program didn't go away either, with construction of the sole "T-1" flight prototype deferred until November 1987, first flight following on 15 September 1991, over a year behind schedule, with test pilot William Casey in the driver's seat. Incidentally, there were also two static-test prototypes, "T-2" and "T-3".

The first "P-1" production machine performed its initial flight on 18 May 1992; the first five production machines were used for trials, to be passed on to operational service after trials were completed. At the time of the first flight of P-1, the total buy had been scaled back to 120 aircraft; a year later, the buy was scaled back to 40 machines, with the program placed on probation. The type went into service in 1994 -- to then hit another snag, when a static test airframe suffered a wing structural failure. The fleet was grounded, with fixes applied to existing aircraft and a modified wing flowed into production, the flaps also being updated because they didn't bear up under hot engine exhaust.

That was not the instant end of the difficulties, but the program then converged towards maturity -- everyone working together instead of against each other, with the C-17 finally proving highly satisfactory in service. The T-1 prototype, incidentally, remained in service as a trials machine up to 2012, being retired to the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. It was also used as a movie prop, appearing in five films including two TRANSFORMERS movies, two IRON MAN movies, and a SUPERMAN movie. Boeing's buyout of McDonnell Douglas in 1997 means that the aircraft is now the Boeing C-17 -- MDD having suffered the hardships on the C-17 program, Boeing was in a position to reap the rewards.

Boeing C-17

Of course, crews had no particular fondness for the stilted name of "Globemaster III", and apparently it is best known as the "Mighty Moose" or more typically just "Moose" -- one mass C-17 exercise being designated Operation FURIOUS MOOSE. Other nicknames are the "Buddha", the aircraft being short, fat, and revered; and "Barney", a mixed tribute to the classic FLINTSTONES caveman cartoon show and the bigger C-5A Galaxy, known as the "Fred" (more more less meaning "Fantastic Ridiculous Economic Disaster"), Barney Rubble being Fred Flintstone's smaller sidekick.



* The C-17 is a big, voluminous aircraft, made mostly of aircraft aluminum alloy, with some titanium and composite assemblies. As mentioned, the C-17 has similarities to the old YC-15, with a high wing with four engine mounted on pylons underneath, a tee tail, main gear in sponsons, and a tail loading ramp. One major difference, aside from size, is that the C-17 has swept flight surfaces while the YC-15 had straight flight surfaces. There is a fair resemblance between the YC-15 and the C-17 on a level view; not so much resemblance on a top view.

C-17 versus YC-15

Each of the C-17's wings features a 25 degree sweepback, supercritical airfoil section, large double slotted flaps in two sections, an aileron outboard of the flaps, four spoilers ahead of the flaps, full-span leading-edge slats, and a wingtip winglet. The flaps use "propulsive lift" as per the YC-15, with engine exhaust flowing above and below the extended flaps, reducing takeoff run. The spoilers are used for roll control -- only the inboard spoilers are deployed at high speed, to prevent overstressing the airframe -- as well as lift enhancement at low speed and as lift dumpers / airbrakes on landings. The tee tail has a split rudder and variable-incidence tailplane; there's a fixed strake along each lower side of the tail.

The C-17 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney F117-P-100 high-bypass turbofans with 185.5 kN (18,915 kg / 41,700 lb) thrust each, similar to the commercial P&W P2040 turbofans used on the Boeing 757 jetliner. The engines have thrust reversers to reduce landing roll and for ground handling, with the aircraft able to back up a shallow slope. The thrust reversers deflect the thrust upwards and so the engines can remain powered up while the aircraft is being quickly unloaded, allowing it to take off again immediately once unloading is complete. There are two distinctive fins, strakes, on each upper engine cowling, acting as "vortex generators" to ensure airflow over the wing and delay onset of stall at high angles of attack.

C-17 engine nacelle

A Honeywell auxiliary power unit (APU) turbine is fitted in the front of the right main landing gear sponson to provide engine starting and ground power; a "ram air turbine" will be extended from the right sponson in the case of a comprehensive power failure, to provide hydraulic system power for minimal flight control. There are six fuel tanks in the wings, with a total capacity of 102,614 liters (27,108 US gallons), and an inflight refueling socket behind the cockpit. An inert-gas generation system helps reduce fuel system fires or explosions. In later production, at least some C-17s were fitted with a wing center-section tank with a capacity of 36,340 liters (9,600 US gallons) of fuel, these aircraft being informally designated as "C-17 ER". It is unclear if the entire fleet has been kitted up to ER specification.

The nose landing gear has two wheels, while each of the two main gear assemblies has six wheels in two rows of three. The nose gear retracts forward and is steerable by rudder pedals, as well as a tiller for tight ground maneuvering. The main gear extends straight down from its sponsons; all landing gear assemblies will open by gravity in case of system failure. The landing gear can support steep-angle combat zone landings.

   BOEING C-17:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                52.20 meters        171 feet 3 inches
   wing area:              353.02 sq_meters    3,800 sq_feet
   length                  53.04 meters        174 feet 
   height                  16.79 meters        55 feet 1 inch 
   empty weight            122,015 kilograms   269,000 pounds
   MTO weight              263,085 kilograms   580,000 pounds

   max cruise speed        830 KPH             515 MPH / 445 KT 
   service ceiling         13,715 meters       45,000 feet
   range with payload      5,190 KM            3,225 MI / 2,805 NMI

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

Normal crew consists of two pilots and a loadmaster, with seats for two more cockpit crew as cockpit observers. The C-17 has a "glass cockpit" with four displays, plus a "head-up display (HUD)" for each pilot. The aircraft features a quadruplex fly-by-wire flight control system; the pilots use sticks and not yokes. Avionics include radios, radio navigation and landing systems, identification friend or foe (IFF) transponder, and a weather radar in the nose. One particularly interesting item of avionics kit is a "Formation Flight System" that allows C-17s to perform mass airdrops in zero visibility with no great hazard of collision.

The C-17 is equipped with an onboard oxygen generator system (OBOGS) to eliminate the need for stocking oxygen bottles. There's also a fire extinguishing system, but though it can be assumed it covers the engines, details are unclear. The C-17 has defensive countermeasures, featuring threat-warning receivers and, initially chaff-flare dispensers. There is a rest area behind the cockpit on the upper deck, with two bunks and two seats; the upper deck also features a galley and a lavatory. The loadmaster has a workstation under the rest area in the lower deck.

There is an "airstair" door for the crew on the left front of the aircraft into the lower deck, with a matching emergency exit door on the right, and a hatch on top of the cockpit upper deck for emergency escape. There are roll-up doors on each side of the rear fuselage for parajumping, with a deployable screen ahead of each door. There are two hatches on top forward of the wing box and two similar hatches behind the parajump doors for emergency escape. The tail door assembly has two sections, the top section hinging up into the payload bay, the lower ramp section hinging down.

Boeing C-17

The cargo bay has a length of 20.78 meters (68 feet 2 inches), a height under the wing center section is 3.76 meters (12 feet 4 inches), and a maximum useful width of 5.49 meters (18 feet). There is a load-handling system, including rollers, running the full length of the cargo bay. There are 17 tip-up seats along each side of the cargo bay, and 48 more seats can be installed in the center of the cargo bay, providing seats for 102 fully-equipped troops; pallets providing 100 seats can be installed as an alternative, giving 154 seats. 48 stretchers can be installed as an alternate configuration. The fuselage is as wide as that of a C-5 Galaxy, and cargo loads can include:

Absolute maximum payload is 78,100 kilograms (172,200 pounds), but a typical payload is 56,250 kilograms (124,000 pounds), with a heavy operational payload running to 69,535 kilograms (153,300 pounds). The C-17 can carry 18 times the payload of the classic C-47 / DC-3 -- which, considering the modest size of the C-47, is not so impressive -- but the C-17 can take off from and land on shorter runways, which is very impressive. The C-17 has excellent short-field capability and is surprisingly agile for an aircraft of its size, performance being well superior to its predecessor cargolifters in USAF service. It established a number of records in its class and is a muscular ride when unladen, compared at least in some respects to flying a fighter jet.



* The C-17 provided good service in the Balkan interventions in the late 1990s, and also performed logistics flights to Antarctic research installations. It fully came into its own after the terrorist attacks on the USA on 11 September 2001, proving a significant asset in the "Global War On Terror", with acquisition of the big aircraft stepping up in pace. It saw intensive use in the Afghanistan intervention from 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. On 26 March 2003, a Moose flight paradropped troops to capture Bashur Airfield in northern Iraq, and followed up the initial drop to install an entire combat brigade there in only 62 sorties. C-17s also airdropped millions of humanitarian daily rations for relief of starving civilians in these theaters. One C-17 was hit by a SAM after departing Baghdad Airport on 9 December 2003; it returned to the airport and was repaired.

The Air Force ended up acquiring a fleet of 223 C-17s, not counting the prototype and including an attrition replacement -- for an aircraft lost with its crew of four during a training flight in Alaska in 2010. The last USAF Moose was delivered in 2013. The quantity was a clear vindication of the type, being a dozen more machines than was projected at the outset, which is not to dismiss the problems with the development program. The C-17 has been enhanced over the course of production, with items including:

Now that all C-17s have been delivered to the Air Force, the service wants to make sure they are all kept up to as common a configuration standard as possible. There have been ongoing improvements in procedures, particularly to reduce fuel consumption -- for example, more precise load planning to ensure optimum center of gravity, and the use of ground power carts instead of the APU except when it's needed.

The USAF configured a number of C-17s as "Special Operations Low Level (SOLL) II" machines for special operations, to replace C-141B Starlifters that had been modified for the SOLL II role. Exact details are classified, but the C-141B SOLL II machines hint that the C-17 SOLL II aircraft have a imaging turret under the nose; they may have enhancements to lighting, communications, and defensive countermeasures as well. It is tempting to think they have offensive armament, but the big C-17 is an unlikely gunship. Incidentally, "SOLL II" does not mean "second series SOLL machine", it means "category II SOLL mission" -- SOLL I being less demanding, it appears.

thundering herd of Moose

In 2013, on the occasion of the last C-17 delivery to the USAF, an Air Force spokeswoman announced that from 11 September 2001 to 4 September 2013, the service's C-17s had flown more than 550,000 sorties adding up to about two million flying hours, carrying almost six million passengers and 3.6 million tonnes (4 million tons) of cargo. From 2006 to that time, they had dropped more than 84,000 parachute loads amounting to 60,000 tonnes (66,000 tons) of materiel. Mission-capable rate in the previous six years was an outstanding 84%+. The Air Force can expect much more good service from the C-17 until it's finally replaced -- no doubt, given expectations that the problem of fuel availability isn't likely to away, by a much more fuel-efficient cargolifter. Right now, the C-17 is expected to fly into the 2050s.

* There have been a fair number of export orders for the C-17:

It is unclear if foreign operators call the C-17 the "Moose", though it would seem the Canadians would have no problem with that nickname. Boeing operates support for the C-17 on a "global" basis, which means in practice that any one operator can obtain spares, and to a degree assistance, from any other C-17 operator. In any case, total production of the C-17 amounted to:

   USAF     224 (including prototype but not the 2 static-test airframes)
   IAF       11
   RAF        8
   RAAF       8
   UAE        8
   Qatar      8
   RCAF       5
   NATO       3
   Kuwait     2

   total    277

The final C-17 was rolled out in late 2015, ten having been built with company funds on expectation of more sales; they were all sold. Boeing tried to push a stretched C-17 with uprated engines, but there were no takers. The company also tried to push a civil C-17, but that didn't happen either, the type being too expensive to operate on a commercial basis -- particularly relative to the Russian Antonov An-124 cargolifter, the literal giant of the commercial airlift market. There is the possibility that military C-17s may later get a "second life" in civil hands, but if so, it won't be for some time.



* In the early 1980s, a group of aerospace companies -- including Aerospatiale of France, British Aerospace (BAE) of the UK, Lockheed of the USA, and Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm (MBB) of West Germany -- began consideration of the "Future International Military Airlifter (FIMA)", a tactical transport aircraft to replace the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and the Franco-German Transall C-160. Lockheed dropped out of the FIMA Group in 1989 to pursue development of the advanced C-130J Super Hercules, while Alenia of Italy and CASA of Spain joined up with the European group, which became "Euroflag".

From the outset, the program was politically complex, involving a bewildering set of nations and industrial partners. By 1992, the "Future Large Aircraft (FLA)" program, as it had been dubbed, had acquired backing from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey, with the UK signing up later; by 1995, Euroflag had become linked with the European Airbus Industries group. Early concepts for the aircraft had envisioned turbofan propulsion, but as development progressed, turboprops became the preferred powerplant. At that time, initial service deliveries were slated for 2003, with initial production orders expected to total 300; the ultimate build was expected to be on the order of twice that.

However, it wasn't until 2003 that the partner nations committed to buy a total of 212 "A400M Atlas" cargolifters, the aircraft to be built by the European Aerospace & Defense Systems (EADS) Airbus firm, at the EADS plant in Seville, Spain. The program was to be under the general direction of the European Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR). That wasn't the end of the complications, Italy deciding to drop out, production totals being reduced to 180 machines, with initial flight in 2008 and first deliveries in 2009. Construction of the first prototype had begun in early 2007.

As it turned out, first flight of a prototype, designated MSN1, from Seville, was not until 11 December 2009; the prototypes were given the nickname of "Grizzly", the first machine of course being "Grizzly 1". By that time, the program was in considerable difficulty, with initial deliveries not slated until 2012, plus technical difficulties and cost overruns. South Africa, which had placed orders for the A400M, cancelled them at that time. The RAF, as mentioned above, obtained C-17s to handle the gap in airlift capability to delivery of the A400M, while Lockheed Martin promoted the C-130J to A400M member nations.

Airbus A400M

The program survived, thanks to an infusion of billions of euros after negotiations. The second A400M prototype, MSN2, performed its initial flight on 8 April 2010. Four more flight prototypes followed, with serial production of the A400M finally beginning in early 2011. Certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency was on 14 March 2013. Initial delivery of the first production aircraft, MSN7, to the French Armee de l'Air, was in August 2013, with a second following before the end of the year. At last count, there were 166 deliveries and firm orders for the A400M, including:

Deliveries of these aircraft are expected to be completed by 2025. Of course, other orders are likely to materialize. However, the program suffered a setback on 9 May 2015, when an A400M, the third to be delivered to Turkey, crashed in Seville during a pre-delivery flight test, four of the six crew being killed, the other two being badly injured. Some delays have to be expected in such a big program.



* The A400M has a fairly typical cargolifter configuration, featuring a voluminous fuselage for cargo hauling, a rear loading ramp, main gear in sponsons alongside the fuselage, a high wing, and a tee tail. It features considerable use of carbon-composite assemblies. All flight surfaces are swept. Its capabilities between those of the C-130 and the C-17, with more cargo capacity and range than the C-130, but not as fast as the C-17.

The A400M is powered by four TP400-D6 turboprops, produced by EuroProp International (EPI), a consortium of Rolls-Royce of the UK, ITP of Spain, MTU of Germany, and Snecma of France. Each engine has an output of more than 8,205 kW (11,000 SHP), making the TP400-D6 the most powerful production turboprop ever made in the West. The engines feature full-authority digital engine controls (FADEC), and drive eight-bladed composite scimitar propellers with a diameter of 5.33 meters (17 feet 6 inches). The two props on each wing rotate in opposite directions to cancel torque; the engines are not "handed", which would complicate maintenance and logistics, the direction of rotation instead being determined by a gearbox setting. The props are variable and fully reversible, capable of backing a fully-loaded A400M up a 2% slope.

Two auxiliary fuel tanks can be installed in the cargo bay, increasing the total fuel capacity by 24%. The A400M has a removeable inflight refueling probe, mounted above the cockpit on the left; it can also be kitted up with a socket for boom refueling. In the tactical tanker role, the A400M can be fitted with a hose-drogue unit (HDU) pod under each wing and a pallet-mounted HDU in the rear cargo bay, for three refueling points in all. The tanker kit was provided by Flight Refueling LTD of the UK. The A400M has tricycle landing gear, the nose gear having two wheels, each main gear having 6 wheels in triple independent two-wheel assemblies, retracting into a sponson alongside the fuselage. The landing gear can "kneel" to facilitate cargo loading.

The cargo bay is 17.71 meters (58 feet 1 inch) long excluding ramp, 4 meters (13 feet 1 inch) wide, and 3.85 meters high (12 feet 8 inches) -- 4 meters high aft of the wing. The cargo bay can be fitted for cargo, vehicle transport, troop transport, or medical evacuation. It can carry up to 20 one-tonne (2,200 pound) containers or pallets; nine standard pallets plus 58 troops, sitting in fold-down chairs along the walls of the fuselage; 120 fully equipped troops; 116 paratroops; or 66 stretchers with 25 medical personnel.

Airbus A400M

The rear cargo door can be opened in flight for airdrops. A powered moving crane with a maximum load of five tonnes (5.5 tons) is fitted to the ceiling of the cargo bay for moving cargoes. Cargo loading and airdrop can be supervised by a single loadmaster, using an onboard control system workstation, linked into a mission planning system. The system also controls flight functions, including fuel management, communications, and ground collision avoidance.

   AIRBUS A400M:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                42.4 meters         139 feet 1 inch
   wing area:              221.5 sq_meters     2,383 sq_feet
   length                  45.1 meters         148 feet 
   height                  14.7 meters         48 feet 3 inches 
   empty weight            76,500 kilograms    168,700 pounds
   MTO weight              141,000 kilograms   311,000 pounds

   cruise speed            555 KPH             345 MPH / 300 KT 
   max speed               780 KPH             485 MPH / 420 KT 
   takeoff length          980 meters          3,210 feet
   landing length          770 meters          2,525 feet
   service ceiling         11,300 meters       37,000 feet
   normal range            3,300 KM            2,050 MI / 1,780 NMI
   ferry range             8,700 KM            5,400 MI / 4,700 NMI

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

The A400M's avionics system leverages off that developed for the Airbus A380 super-jumbo jetliner, including a fly-by-wire flight control system and a "glass cockpit", with nine color flat-panel displays and digital head-up displays. The A400M's cockpit is compatible with night vision devices. The aircraft is flown by a pilot and copilot, using sidestick controllers instead of the traditional yoke control, with a cockpit station for an optional mission equipment operator.

Other elements of the avionics system include militarized radios, including satcom transceivers; radio navigation and landing aids; a long-range navigation system including a GPS receiver and inertial navigation unit; and Northrop Grumman AN/APN-241E navigation-weather radar. German A400Ms are fitted with a low-level terrain-following system, clearly for support of special operations.

The A400M features an automated defensive countermeasures suite, including radar and missile-launch warning systems, along with chaff-flare dispensers; a directed laser countermeasures system is a future. The A400M can also be fitted with crew armor protection and bulletproof windscreens, infrared shields for the engines, plus inert-gas fire retardation in the fuel system. The wings have pylon hardpoints for carrying tanker pods or electronic warfare pods. The A400M has performed trial inflight refuelings with the tanker pods; electronic warfare configurations are clearly a future for the A400M, not much having been said about specifics to this time.



* One item that didn't quite fit into the text was the use of a C-17 in 2006 for test drops of an air-launched satellite booster named "QuickReach". A dummy QuickReach article was dropped out of the payload hold to determine the feasibility of the launch method. There were no big hangups with the drops, but the QuickReach program was canceled, and no actual launches of the booster were performed. Another interesting little item was a test performed by the USAF in 2013, in which a C-17 riding a wingtip vortex of another C-17 showed it could cut its fuel burn by 10%. The Air Force has refined software to automate the procedure, allowing a C-17 to ride a vortex without adding to aircrew workload.

LAIRCM system on C-17

* In response to a query, I got to thinking of exactly how the A400M fits between the C-130 and the C-17. Although comparison of specs is like playing a game of multidimensional apples and oranges, I decided to perform a comparison with a C-130H as a baseline. As it came out, it appears the A400M can handle about twice the load of the C-130H, while the C-17 can handle twice the load of the A400M. That makes the A400M more in the league of the C-130, but it's still larger enough to let me get away with discussing it along with the C-17.

* As concerns copyrights and permissions for this document, all illustrations and images credited to me are public domain. I reserve all rights to my writings. However, if anyone does want to make use of my writings, just contact me, and we can chat about it. I'm lenient in giving permissions, usually on the basis of being properly credited.

* Sources include:

Other materials were picked up from JANE'S, Wikipedia, Boeing & Airbus online materials, and the "" website.

* Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 feb 14 
   v1.0.1 / 01 jan 16 / C-17 global support.
   v1.0.2 / 01 dec 17 / Review & polish.