Nov 3, 2015
Airbus Targets Helo Refueling, Paratrooper Airdrops for A400M
Air forces of the client nations are “very frustrated” and eager to have the capabilities fitted.
Air-to-air refueling is a vital function for special forces helicopters flying in the vast sub-Saharan Sahel region as that capability reduces contact with the harsh, gritty sand that is wearing down helicopter engines. That is one of the capabilities contracted but which is late to be fitted on the new transport.
Refueling helicopters will be “very difficult to achieve,” but Airbus has not abandoned the capability. An option to be explored is to use a 120- to 150-foot hose, compared to the present 90-foot hose, to allow helicopters to fly a safe distance as they refuel.
France hopes to have 11 A400Ms by the end of 2016, of which six should be fitted with the capabilities for self defense, airdrops and landing on rough strips.
Other features that need attention are software for airdrops of heavy cargo loads and self-protection systems.
An urgent need for helicopter refueling is reflected in the French plan to acquire four C-130s, of which two will be equipped for that mission.
The Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office also is looking in Europe for second-hand C-130Hs, with two units for transport and two for helicopter refueling, and also for a company to convert a C-130 to refueling, he said.
Among the Airbus research projects being conducted is the fitting of the C-295 medium transport for in-flight refueling.
Another key capability is paratroopers jumping simultaneously from the side doors. The computer modeling shows a risk of the parachutes converging and colliding as they open, a critical moment in the airdrop.
One possible solution might involve using a specific kind of parachute.
Free-fall jumping from one of the doors, from the ramp, and a static line automatic release from the ramp have been certified.
Airbus plans to deliver between 13 and 17 units this year, with the last four due in December. A previous schedule set a minimum of 14 deliveries but a deadly crash on May 9 of an A400M due for Turkey reduced that number by one.
Next year, 23 units are due for delivery as production speeds up. That compares to seven or eight delivered last year.
France (7), Britain (4), Germany (1), Turkey (1) and Malaysia (1) have the plane in service, with Spain due to receive its first unit in the second quarter 2016, and one for Belgium and Luxemburg in the first half 2019.
Airbus is in “serious negotiations” with potential export clients for the A400M. Sales of more than 300 units over the next 30 years are expected. Three South American countries have asked for extra information.