On May 14, 2020, the Certification and Qualification Committee (CQC) (1) representing the seven partner nations (2) of the A400M Atlas military transport aircraft program announced the certification (3) of the capability to simultaneously drop paratroopers through the aircraft’s two side doors, as well as its ability to very low altitude terrain-following capability in automatic mode under visual flight conditions. These are two more milestones in the ramp-up of the aircraft’s technical capabilities.
These two certifications are the culmination of a process that required the contribution of several French and European state actors. The Directorate General of Armaments (DGA), the technical authority for the program for France, played a major role in the military certification of the aircraft. Supported by the services, its technical directorate coordinated and provided a significant part of the expertise and testing assets.
The new paradropping capability will allow, from 2021, the simultaneous drop in a single pass of 116 paratroopers -- 58 from each of the aircraft’s two side doors -- a significant improvement in the operational capability recently declared by the French Air Force of 30 paratroopers through a single side door.
The DGA Project Engineering Center was responsible for defining the capability certification process, for monitoring its development and training on the basis of test and simulation data. All these activities took place in multinational format for the benefit of the A400M CQC.
The expertise and testing centers of DGA Aeronautical Techniques and DGA Flight Tests provided the expertise of their test paratroopers for development and certification jumps. DGA Aviation Techniques also participated in the conduct of the airdrop test and certification campaigns in liaison with Airbus, the French Army and the Belgian Army, as well as the identification of the landing zones and the analysis of the conformity of the results presented by Airbus.
DGA’s technical directorate also participated in the certification campaign for the second A400M capability which has just been validated, the very low altitude terrain-following in automatic mode (Low Level Flight). under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), a world first for a transport aircraft.
Resolutely innovative, this new capability of the A400M takes into account the performance variance depending on actual conditions, as well as the possibility of incidents such as engine damage or loss of positioning (lateral and / or vertical). It can be used either in fully automatic mode or by following the instructions of the flight director. In addition, the horizontal trajectory can be modified almost at any time, allowing a flexibility that is particularly appreciable in a complex tactical context. Ultimately, it will allow the Air Force to carry out missions at very low altitudes in blind flying conditions.
DGA Flight Tests made available one of its AlphaJet test aircraft and its database (terrain and obstacles) for development flights conducted by Airbus. The center also participated in certification work, through working groups aimed at fixing the safety, operational envelope and performance characteristics of the capability, as well as in certification flights carried out in 2018 and 2019.
The first new aircraft in this configuration will be delivered to France in early 2021 but an aircraft already in service in the Air Force will be retrofitted before the end of 2020 by Airbus. An initial operational capacity is due to be attained by six French Air Force A400Ms during the summer of 2021.
Qualification of the final standard for the A400M is expected for 2022, and will in particular provide helicopter refueling capacity, as well as improvements to current air drop and self-protection capabilities.
1) The committee of experts includes a representative of each nation. Its main mission is to verify the fulfillment of military security requirements and the performance of the A400M presented by Airbus. It relies on 15 working groups, in all the areas concerned (flight, cargo, avionics, human factors, electronic warfare, etc.). It is currently chaired by an engineer from the DGA.
2) The partner nations of the A400M program are: Belgium (which is buying and will operate one aircraft on behalf of Luxembourg), France, Germany, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
3 The CQC is not an airworthiness authority; it is the States (and therefore the DGA for France) which issue military certifications.