Atlas Carries the Patrouille de France on Its Shoulders
Photos by Mike Colaner, except where noted
Airbus Defense and Space builds the A-400M Atlas, a strategic military transport with tactical capabilities. The large four-engined turboprop acts like a turbojet in many ways. With only three dozen airframes operational in early 2017, the seldom-seen transport drew much attention when it flew the first flight demonstrations of the type in the U.S. in March and April this year. The new airlifter enabled the Patrouille de France to complete its 2017 North American Tour by acting as the team’s logistical mobile hangar and personnel transport. Here’s an Armee de l’Air press release describing what the Atlas does for the team, and the French Air Force:
“AIRBUS A400M ATLAS SPEARHEADING LOGISTICS SUPPORT FOR THE TOUR
The A400M Atlas will be used for logistics support during the Patrouille de France’s tour. Around 25 tonnes (27 U.S. tons) of equipment and about sixty passengers will be transported for the 24 stops on the tour. This operation is a major technical and logistical challenge. It involves sending a French Air Force unit overseas, not unlike deploying a fighter squadron on overseas operations. Boasting cutting-edge technology and new air transportation capacities, the A400M Atlas is the French Air Force’s new-generation tactical transport aircraft with strategic airlift. Stationed at Orléans-Bricy Air Base 123, and equipping the 61st Transport Squadron, the A400M Atlas features greater airlift capability and range compared to the C160 Transall or C130 Hercules which it is to replace. Throughout 2017, the A400M Atlas will keep to a regular schedule of operational transport missions from France to projected air bases and forward posts in the Sahel and the Levant, making either tactical landings or air drops. By the end of 2019, France will have a fleet of fifteen A400Ms, giving it all the tactical capabilities it requires. Such a capability is crucial for projecting the French Armed Forces around the world, and the French Air Force ultimately aims to have fifty A400Ms.”
The A400M can carry payloads larger than the C-130J Hercules can, but smaller than the C-17A Globemaster III. As a strategic airlifter, it can cruise at FL370 (although it is certified to FL400) at Mach .72 (similar to the BAC-146 jetliner), powered by four counter rotating EuroProp International TP 400 engines with Ratier-Figeac eight-bladed composite propellers. Each wing has a pair of engines that counter rotate, allowing for better control during engine-out operations. Size-wise, the A400M has a wingspan of 139 feet, and is 148 feet long. The top of its tail sits some 48 feet off of the ground. This puts the aircraft in the middle ground between the U.S.’s C-130 and C-17 transports in size, capacity and performance.
Payload capabilities include a maximum gross takeoff weight of 310,852 pounds, making it a “heavy” aircraft in ATC terms. The aircraft can carry slightly more than 111,000 pounds of fuel. Payloads, with fuel trade-offs, can include 116 paratroopers or 66 littered patients and 25 attendants. Planned internal equipment include a portable intensive care suite. It can carry a pair of Airbus Helicopters Tiger attack helicopters, or two five ton trucks, or three VAB armored vehicles, or nine NATO standard pallets.
The Atlas can be equipped with two Hose and Drum Unit (HDU) air refueling pods on the outboard wings, and one centerline, fuselage mounted HDU. It has been certified to refuel all other probe-equipped aircraft in French service, as well as many European and non-European manufactured aircraft. To extend its range, and Atlas can receive fuel too.
For the North American Tour of the Patrouille de France in 2017, the Atlas performed much the same mission as Air Force C-17s do for the USAF Thunderbirds, or the Marine’s Fat Albert Airlines C-130 does for the Navy’s Blue Angels. A major difference is that the French team travelled with ten jets and a few more personnel than do the U.S. teams, who normally travel with seven or eight demonstration jets and a dozen or so less personnel to each show site.