A400M engine testing moves into higher gear

Airbus and its parent EADS are hopeful that their prototype TP400D turboprop engine currently fitted to a Marshall Aerospace C-130K will have clocked up 50 flight hours by July.

Aviation Week reports that the engine has so far flown about 15 hours since mid-December.

The publication adds that improving weather should allow test pilots to increase the pace of testing.

“Also due this quarter is improved engine hardware for the first flight A400M, with the goal of starting static engine ground runs in the third quarter, EADS officials told the publication.

“One of the main development hurdles to maintain the plan to fly the A400M this year is the full-authority digital engine control (FADEC) system. Engine consortium Europrop International is supposed to achieve that milestone in the third quarter.

“That sets significant activity in the fourth quarter, including Airbus Military completing FADEC system integration tests, the European Aviation Safety Agency providing flight clearance for MSN001, and the actual flight,” the weekly adds.

“The aircraft would enter into service three years after first flight, barring any surprises during the test campaign.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal adds that France has joined Spain and Turkey in stating that “it will do everything in its power to save the troubled programme.

It quotes French Defense Minister Herve Morin as acknowledging that the program is running “four, maybe five years behind schedule,” adding that Airbus had perhaps been “too optimistic in thinking that it was a civilian aircraft painted green.”

France and Germany badly need strategic airlift capacity as their current fleets of Transall C160 aircraft are close to the end of their useful lives. The five other European customers – Belgium, Britain, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey – are in less of a hurry, Morin said.

The defence ministers of the latter two earlier this month vowed not to cut orders, adding that the seven NATO partners who have ordered 180 of the transports will hold talks every two weeks to bring Europe‘s top military programme back on track.

Turkish defence minister Vecdi Gonul told Reuters the seven partners were currently in the “evaluation stage” of their efforts to rescue the project.

Spanish defence minister Carme Chacon rejected German suggestions that the programme could fail. “We are prepared for everything in order to be able to save the programme. So that is what we are fighting for.” In addition to ordering 27 of the aircraft, Spain is also host to the final assembly line of what is billed a €20 billion programme. 

Morin noted some partners – notably the UK – were exploring the idea of buying the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III off the shelf. “We wouldn’t have to buy C-17s if the A400M were on time,” Morin said, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re actually going to buy C-17s.” The C-17 is “much too big” for the airlift operations that France takes on traditionally, notably from unpaved airstrips.

“The plane has been plagued with problems related to its engine management software and tough technical specifications imposed by the military of the seven countries, such as that it has to be able to refuel a helicopter while flying at low altitude,” the Wall Street Journal added.

Morin`s comments also echo that of South African Air Force chief Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano that the C17 was too expensive and that the only other alternatives to the A400M were Russian Illyushin and Ukrainian Antonov transports, which enjoy a poor reputation.