The Airbus A400M Atlas is a European, four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. It was designed by Airbus Military (now Airbus Defence and Space) as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities to replace older transport aircraft, such as the Transall C-160 and the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The A400M is positioned, in terms of size, between the C-130 and the C-17; it can carry heavier loads than the C-130 and is able to use rough landing strips. Along with the transport role, the A400M can perform aerial refuelling and medical evacuation when fitted with appropriate equipment.
The A400M’s maiden flight, originally planned for 2008, took place on 11 December 2009 from Seville, Spain. Between 2009 and 2010, the A400M faced cancellation as a result of development programme delays and cost overruns however, the customer nations chose to maintain their support of the project. A total of 174 A400M aircraft had been ordered by eight nations by July 2011. In March 2013, the A400M received European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification. The first aircraft was delivered to the French Air Force in August 2013.
he project began as the Future International Military Airlifter (FIMA) group, set up in 1982 by Aérospatiale, British Aerospace (BAe), Lockheed, and Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) to develop a replacement for the C-130 Hercules and Transall C-160. Varying requirements and the complications of international politics caused slow progress. In 1989, Lockheed left the grouping and went on to develop an upgraded Hercules, the C-130J Super Hercules. With the addition of Alenia of Italy and CASA of Spain the FIMA group became Euroflag.
Since no existing turboprop engine in the western world was powerful enough to reach the projected cruise speed of Mach 0.72, a new engine design was required. Originally the SNECMA M138 turboprop (based on the M88 core) was selected, but didn’t meet the requirements. Airbus Military issued a new request for proposal (RFP) in April 2002, after which Pratt & Whitney Canada with the PW180 and Europrop International answered. In May 2003, Airbus Military selected the Europrop TP400-D6, reportedly due to political interference over the PW180 engine.
The original partner nations were France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Belgium, and Luxembourg. These nations decided to charge the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) with the management of the acquisition of the A400M. Following the withdrawal of Italy and revision of procurement totals the revised requirement was for 180 aircraft, with first flight in 2008 and first delivery in 2009. On 28 April 2005, South Africa joined the partnership programme with the state-owned Denel Saab Aerostructures receiving a contract for fuselage components.
The A400M is positioned as an intermediate size and range between the Lockheed C-130 and the Boeing C-17, carrying cargo too large or too heavy for the C-130 while able to use rough landing strips. It has been advertised with the tagline "transport what the C130 cannot to places that the C17 can’t".