A400M ATLAS AND VOYAGER: DELIVERING SUCCESS
Richard Thompson Chief Executive Officer, Airbus Military UK The A400M Atlas is able to carry loads over intercontinental distances at high speeds and altitudes
WHAT MAKES THE AIRBUS A400M ATLAS SPECIAL? There has never been an aircraft such as the A400M available to the world’s air forces before. This is an aircraft that, for the first time, will provide true strategic and tactical capabilities in a single machine. On the one hand, it can fly intercontinental distances, carrying heavy and outsized loads, at speeds and altitudes comparable to jets. On the other, it can land at and take off from unprepared runways in distances about the same as tactical transports that carry only half its payload. These will become priceless capabilities at a time when the ability to fly from austere forward operating bases close to the scene of ground operations – military or humanitarian – is increasingly vital.
HOW WILL THE ATLAS ENHANCE ROYAL AIR FORCE CAPABILITIES? First, the Atlas is a replacement for the C-130 Hercules and it will do everything that the Hercules can, but it will also do far more. Basically, the Atlas has twice the payload and range of the C-130,
and it also has a much larger cargo hold that is the same height as that of a C-17. In fact, the Atlas can carry 80% of all the UK armed forces’ air-portable items – including a Chinook helicopter, for example – compared with 29% in the C-130J and 92% in the C-17.
HOW DOES ATLAS COMPARE WITH, OR COMPLEMENT, THE AIRBUS VOYAGER AIRCRAFT? Voyager is, above all, an air-to-air tanker, although it can also transport up to 291 troops and 45 tons of pallets on its lower deck. It has very long range – up to 8,000 nautical miles – but operates from the long runways typically used by airliners. Atlas carries 116 troops, but can use short and unprepared runways, carry large-sized loads, and perform air-dropping and paratrooping operations. So, they have very different roles, even if there is some overlap in load-carrying capability. A400M can also be used as a tanker, in fact, although the Royal Air Force (RAF) does not immediately plan to do that.
WHAT WILL THE TWO AIRCRAFT TYPES ENABLE THE RAF TO DO THAT IT COULDN’T BEFORE? Voyager is already transforming the RAF’s air mobility and tanker force. It is unquestionably the world’s most capable tanker, in large part due to its basic design that means its maximum fuel load of 111 tons is potentially available to receiver aircraft, while leaving its passenger and freight transport capability intact. Also, Atlas will deliver huge gains in day-to-day operating efficiency thanks to its basic performance, as well as a vastly enhanced mission systems capability when required.
WHAT IS THE TIMELINE FOR DELIVERIES OF THE REST OF THE VOYAGER AND ALL THE A400M AIRCRAFT? The last of the 14 Voyagers will be delivered in mid 2016. Eight of the planned Atlas fleet of 22 aircraft have been handed over already, and the detailed schedule for the remainder is under discussion with Airbus Defence and Space.