Airbus remains confident that its previously troubled A400M military transport will fly at the end of the year.
The company says technicians are currently fitting engines and propellers to the first aircraft scheduled to fly, airframe MSN 001.
Briefing journalists at an Airbus facility at Getafe near Madrid yesterday, Airbus senior vice president and A400M programme head Rafael Tentor said MSN001 was also on track for static engine ground runs in mid-November.
Tentor told the media structural static tests required for first flight were completed at the beginning of June, including the definition of maximum loads and wing flex trials.
Work on qualifying the A400M`s massive Europrop International TP400 turboprop engines is also proceeding apace. The engine last month achieved hardware clearance for first flight and has so far clocked up 3150 flight hours on the ground as well as aboard a Lockheed Martin C130K testbed aircraft.
To date 16 flights have been performed with a total of 46 flight hours. Tentor says the full flight envelope has been opened without restriction and maximum power has been achieved at take-off as well as in flight.
All in-flight characteristics are as expected, Tentor said, and no critical issues preventing first flight have been identified.
Regarding the software for the fully automated digital engine control (FADEC) that has substantially delayed the process, the A400M chief noted that development maturity was on target for the year-end flight.
Of especial significance was the July 31 audit of the software by the European Air Safety Authority (EASA). EPI earlier this year admitted it had blundered by not ensuring that the previous iteration of the software was auditable. As a result of the oversight, it had to be rewritten.
First Flight Version 1 FADEC software was delivered at end-June and Version 2 was released on August 25, “correcting most issues”. The final version of the software began testing this week.
Tentor said steps that remained towards first flight were:
• Completing engine and propeller installation
• Completing the installation and testing of flyable software
• Performing electromagnetic interference checks on the complete aircraft system
• Transferring MSN 001 from the production organisation to Flight Test Department
• Performing the necessary system testing prior to static engine ground run
• Taxing the aircraft at low speed and then high speeds
• In parallel, obtaining all necessary EASA approvals for powerplant and airframe flight permits.
• First flight
That flight will be a proper working test with little of the fanfare that marked the rollout of MSN last year.
Regarding the second airframe, MSN002, Tentor said that it would by year-end have undergone a structural upgrade and full systems installation. All systems testing – including outdoor cabin pressurisation, fuel systems and software – will also be done. It is scheduled for first flight in the first quarter of the New Year.
Final assembly of MSN 003 began this month with the wings been attached to the main fuselage this weekend. First flight is expected by mid-2010.
Tentor added that aircraft MSN 006 would be the first production aircraft with MSN 007 being the first to be delivered to the French Air Force, the launch client. Delivery is now planned for three years after first flight – or roughly late 2012.
Some 192 aircraft are currently on order for nine air forces, including the South African Air Force.
Asked what the specific roles of the pre-production aircraft was in the flight test
Programme, Tentor said MSN 001 was the flight performance aircraft, MSN 002 the engine integration platform, MSN 003 the systems integration aircraft and MSN 004 the basic aircraft for cargo systems development.
Tentor also commented on previous worries about the A400M`s weight. He says the aircraft`s mass is “well under control” and “in line with the payload and range capability we committed to customers.” The total payload of the aircraft is 37 metric ton of which nearly 5mt are for optional customer configuration items and equipment. This will leave an available payload of 32mt, he says.