Seville successfully hosted the maiden flight of the new military airlifter manufactured by the European aeronautical consortium EADS during a day which marks a historical turning point for Andalusian, Spanish and world aeronautics.
On an emotion-filled day, during the flight of the A400M, which lasted nearly four hours, all the tests were carried out in a satisfactory manner to certify the emergence of a new generation of military aircraft. The event was attended by His Majesty the King of Spain and a crowd of more than 2,000 which included representatives of the upper management of EADS, local, regional and national authorities and the workers of the San Pablo fAL.
A new milestone for world, European, Spanish and Andalusian aeronautics and aviation; this phrase sums up the maiden flight of the first A400M, the new military airlifter by Airbus Military, the affiliate of the aeronautical consortium EADS, which took place on 11 December 2009 in Seville, a favourite city for maiden flights over the course of Spanish aeronautical and aviation history. This is a date to be remembered which will undoubtedly signify a historical milestone for the international and Spanish aeronautical industry.
Andalusia and the companies which make up the region’s aeronautical sector have also played an important role in this new technological and industrial achievement. It was a day in which the general mood of excitement and expectation (and scepticism to a lesser degree) was transformed into outright joy for the more than 2,000 persons who attended the event at the San Pablo FAl in Seville, and particularly for the workers of the Seville plant, when the A400M landed at Seville Airport at 14.02 after satisfactorily completing its maiden flight with a duration of three hours and 47 minutes. The occasion, which was charged with emotion until the aircraft's arrival at the Andalusian factory, was attended by His Majesty the King of Spain, who already witnessed the roll-out of the A400M from its hangar in 2008 and did not want to miss its maiden flight.
There were also speeches by Domingo ureña, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Military; Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus; and louis Gallois, CEO of EADS. Also present at this very special event was the Spanish Minister of Defence, Carme Chacón; her French counterpart, Hervé Morin; the Minister of Industry, Miguel Sebastián; the President of the Andalusian Regional Government, José Antonio Griñan; the Minister of Innovation, Science and Enterprise, Martín Soler; the Mayor of Seville, Alfredo Sánchez Monteseirín; high-ranking officials of the Spanish Armed Forces and other personalities from the economic, business and social sphere in Andalusia.
Successful test flight
The maiden flight of the A400M officially began prior to 10 a.m. when the main political and military officials, guests and the national and international press began to arrive at the facilities of Airbus Military in the Andalusian capital, where they were able to admire the new aircraft with the engines running and witness the initial tests and checks being made by the crew of the first test flight. This was an impressive sight in itself, giving an indication of the magnitude and technical complexity of this much-awaited project for the A400M, the most technologically advanced military airlifter in the world. Minutes before the time initially scheduled for take-off, the A400M began to taxi along the runway of San Pablo Airport, taking off at 10:15 a.m. (local time). The slight delay in the schedule for the event did not concern those attending, who showed their delight when the new airlifter by Airbus Military soared into the Andalusian sky on its way to the north of Huelva province and southern Extremadura where the different tests and checks were carried out. For its first flight the A400M took off with a weight of 127 tonnes, compared with the maximum take-off weight of 141 tonnes, carrying 15 tonnes of test equipment which included two tonnes of water ballast. As planned, the six-man crew, consisting of the pilots Edward Strongman and Ignacio lombo and another four engineers, extensively explored the aircraft’s flight envelope in direct law. They also tested the functioning of the engines and a wide speed-range until reaching 300 knots at a height of 20,000 ft., as well as the raising and lowering of the landing gear, the flap configurations and the high-lift devices at altitude. The flight was monitored in real time by teams of engineers in Seville and Toulouse using a state-of-the-art air-ground telemetry system. The crew confirmed that the test aircraft, dubbed MSN1, functioned as expected, as did its four TP400D turboprop engines by Europrop International, the most powerful turboprop engines in the West to date. After checking the aircraft's performance in the landing configuration and carrying out an initial evaluation of the aircraft's systems, the crew made a successful return to Seville.
A thrilling wait
While waiting for the landing of the aircraft a press conference was held by the head of flight tests, Fernando Alonso, who gave the media details of the A400M’s take-off. This was followed by the arrival at the Seville plant of the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, who after being received by the management of Airbus and EADS visited the air-ground telemetry centre and witnessed the in-flight tests and checks first-hand as they were carried out.
The flight was scheduled to take approximately three hours, however the in-flight tests took longer than expected and the landing of the aircraft at Seville airport was delayed by nearly one hour. This long wait further intensified the occasion, which was tensionfilled for many of those responsible for its organisation, reflecting the great responsibility of a project which has taken longer than expected, with resulting concern on the part of the countries involved in the contracts for this new European military airlifter. At 1:50 p.m. an excited and nervous Domingo ureña pointed out the A400M to King Juan Carlos as it approached the FAL and Seville Airport.
What appeared from a distance to be a clumsy, potbellied plane transformed within seconds into resounding proof of one of the most sophisticated and advanced aircraft in world aviation, the new military aircraft for the 21st century.
The plane flew over the plant at San Pablo before landing so that those attending the event could appreciate this new model’s silent flight, drawing unanimous applause from all those present and cheers from the hundreds of workers and employees of the Seville factory.
The aircraft finally landed just after two o'clock in the afternoon next to the runway in front of the FAl, and at around 2:30 p.m., after greeting the employees of the plant, it came to a halt in front of the VIP box where the engines were shut down. King Juan Carlos, accompanied by Domingo ureña, Tom Enders, louis Gallois and the other officials present at the ceremony, approached to congratulate the crew and the head of the flight tests.
This was a particularly emotive moment, particularly for the representatives of Airbus and EADS.
A historic achievement
The acts associated with the maiden flight of the A400M ended with a series of speeches in which the main officials, the management of the company and the King of Spain highlighted this historic achievement and the success of the A400M. The first words of the flight crew were to highlight the in-flight performance of the aircraft. Ed Strongman said: “We have had a very successful first flight. The take-off performance was impressive, we explored a lot of the operational flight envelope and it was a delight to operate in such a well-designed cockpit with its easy interface to all the normal and military systems.
I am sure our customer pilots are going to like itwe certainly did". His Spanish counterpart, Nacho lombo, added that “it is very easy and comfortable to fly. From the very beginning of the flight we were impressed by the ease of handling of the aircraft which was in line with what we experienced in the simulator. The aircraft, systems and engine performance were highly satisfactory. We sense the great potential of this magnificent machine. We enjoyed the flight right from the very first moment. It has been an honour for all the crew to fly the A400M on its maiden flight, representing all the people involved in the programme”.
The CEO of Airbus Military, Domingo ureña-Raso, was visibly delighted. “Today we have achieved a dream together, a turning point for EADS and Seville. With the A400M we will now become the leaders for military transport, just as Airbus already is for commercial aircraft” he commented. “I would like to congratulate all of the flight-test team for completing the first flight of the A400M with great success. I am also deeply grateful to everyone who collaborated in the programme for their dedication and hard work that have made this aircraft a reality”. Domingo ureña also expressed his gratitude to “our industrial partners and suppliers, as well as our customers, who have contributed so much to the design and creation of an outstanding product". Airbus CEO Tom Enders indicated that he hoped to “soon provide certainty that we are able to continue with the A400M programme.
This is expected by those at Airbus, our partners and suppliers worldwide who contributed so strongly to today’s success, as well as by the air forces who wait for their plane". To close the speeches by the upper management of EADS, its CEO louis Gallois expressed his gratitude to the King Juan Carlos for his presence and support on such a special day for the European aeronautical industry, and the work and effort of all those who have participated in the A400M, particularly the employees of the company. The Spanish monarch was responsible for closing the ceremony, highlighting that the A400M aircraft “is a symbol for Seville, Spain and Europe of what Europeans can do when we set a common objective". His Majesty described the A400M as “a machine of extraordinary capacity” and highlighted that the aircraft “will signify an important advance for the European Armed Forces” as it will “offer features which no other aircraft can provide at a time when European international commitments demand the same”.
He affirmed that the aircraft offers major possibilities for humanitarian aid missions and that its special features "will enable it to go practically anywhere it is needed and use unprepared landing areas which are very close to the zones affected".
The King also expressed his satisfaction at the "great progress of the aeronautical sector in Spain over the last 10 years" and highlighted the importance of the industry both for Europe in general and for Spain in particular, "creating hundreds of direct and indirect jobs and producing wealth and technology for all the countries involved". "It is an industry which we are proud of and which inspires us to take on new challenges” he stated, emphasising that it employs the all-important resource of “talent” on a large scale and concluding that the results justify "the enormous resources and investment involved".
The future of the programme
King Juan Carlos expressed his "best wishes for the success" of the A-400M project and indicated his "complete support" of all the nations involved in the programme, encouraging governments and industry to reach a final agreement to ensure the "complete success" of the programme "as soon as possible". These words were a clear reference to the delicate financial situation of the programme after overcoming the technical and industrial problems arising during the manufacture and fine-tuning of the aircraft.
Without taking into account the excess costs associated with the two-year delay of the programme, the most delicate factor is undoubtedly the current negotiation process between Airbus Military and EADS and the eight countries which have already purchased a total of 184 A-400M aircraft: Belgium, France, Germany, luxembourg, Malaysia, Spain, Turkey and the united Kingdom. The CEO of Airbus, Tom Enders, recognised following the first flight of the military airlifter that the current financial situation of
King Juan Carlos expressed his "best wishes for the success" of the A-400M project and indicated his "complete support" of all the nations involved in the programme
the A400M “is not viable”, and called for an additional effort on the part of government customers “to the benefit of all parties”. Meanwhile, the CEO of EADS louis Gallois also recognised the prejudice to customers deriving from the accumulated delays of the A400M, although he also asked for a "collective effort" for a project which among other things is "an important tool for the creation of jobs". In fact, the French Defence Minister, Hervé Morin, affirmed after witnessing the first flight that he hopes to reach a financing agreement for the programme with these countries "in the next two months", while on the same day the COO of Airbus Fabrice Berger stated in an interview with the daily newspaper la Tribune that the seven states participating in the programme will have to assume a "significant" increase in the price.
Model of the 21st century
The maiden flight of the A400M marks the beginning of a series of test campaigns which will involve 3,700 flight hours, to be carried out by a fleet of five aircraft from now until its entry into service at the end of 2012, when the first delivery to the French Air Force will be made. In the first half of 2010 the MSN 2 and the MSN 3 will join the MSN 1; the MSN 4 will follow at the end of the year. In 2011 a fifth aircraft will join the programme.
These tests will be followed by additional flights for military purposes. The A400M will receive both civil certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and military certification and qualification. Airbus and Airbus Military have drawn on decades of technical experience in the construction of commercial aircraft to produce the world’s most modern airlifter, capable of participating in both strategic and tactical operations.
Although in reality it is a tactical aircraft capable of landing on soft, rough and short runways to supply equipment and troops close to where they are required, it can fly at the same altitudes as jets and at a comparable cruising speed. Thanks to the latest technology it can fly higher, faster and further than its predecessors, without losing any of its manoeuvrability or capacity at low speeds on short, soft or unpaved runways. It is accordingly ideal for carrying out tactical and strategic/logistical missions such aerial refuelling and can offload fuel to both fighter planes and helicopters at the velocity and altitude desired.
Its cargo compartment is designed specifically to carry the enormous amount of equipment necessary nowadays to carry out both military and humanitarian missions and assistance for natural disasters, enabling these materials to be very rapidly transported to the places where there are needed.
The A400M is also equipped with the same proven “fly-by-wire” technology used with great success on the Airbus airliner family, and an advanced cockpit based on that of the A380. The carbonfibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) wings and other large structures grant the aircraft weight and strength advantages and reduce the risk of corrosion. Designed to be extremely reliable and enormously resistant, the A400M is a multipurpose aircraft which can single-handedly do the job of three of the different models currently in service. This signifies a reduction in the size of fleets and a reduced investment by operators.
Capable of doing more with less, the A400M is the most economic, efficient and versatile military airlifter ever created, equipped with truly unique features.
Major media presence for the maiden flight
The expectations generated by the first flight of the A400M, an aircraft manufacture programme which has been closely followed by the European and international aeronautical industry and in particular by the countries involved in the first orders, resulted in an enormous media presence at the facilities of the Airbus Military plant at San Pablo airport, Seville. More than 300 journalists mainly from France and the united Kingdom, in addition to the Spanish media, were accredited to cover this event, some of whom offered live interviews, connections and news reports from the set located right on the factory runway.
The company also provided an extensive press centre equipped with computers and Internet to facilitate the work of these journalists and offered a press conference by the head of flight tests, Fernando Alonso, to inform regarding the details of the take-off and the first in-flight tests of the A-400M. In addition, to bring the citizens of the Andalusian capital closer to this historic event the Seville City Council offered a live transmission of the progress of the maiden flight on three giant screens via local television at various points of the city, including Seville’s Higher School of Engineering.
In addition, the workers of the factory at Tablada together with other Airbus and EADS employees watched a live transmission of the flight via satellite. Social networks on the Internet were another source of information to keep up-to-date with all the details of the maiden flight of the A400M.