Job done for the first A400M

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Just on four years after its maiden flight, the first Airbus Military A400M airlifter has been retired and will go on public display.

Development aircraft MSN1, affectionately known as Grizzly 1, completed its final flight last month with the same aircrew that first took it into the skies on December 11, 2009.

MSN1 logged 1 448 hours in 475 flights with its final mission a one hour sortie to validate procedures for landing with the ramp and door failed in the open position.

After its final touchdown, chief test pilot Ed Strongman, who commanded Grizzly 1’s first and last flights, said it “had a relatively short but arduous life”.
“The aircraft has taken us to the extreme parts of the flight envelope where, I hope, most other A400Ms will not go.
“It has done superb service for Airbus Military and the customers who will benefit from everything we have learnt. Now I trust Grizzly 1 will have many more years of service in educating the aviation public and inspiring a new generation to follow careers in aerospace,” he said.

The first three A400Ms were produced for the aircraft’s core certification programme, requiring extensive test instrumentation for measuring and recording both aircraft and systems performance. With that activity now winding down one aircraft – MSN2 – fitted with optimum instrumentation for the remaining work is now required.

MSN3 has been placed in long term storage but remains flyable. It is currently not intended to fly again bit could be returned to flight test duties if required.

Discussions on the final display site for Girzzly 1 are underway, led by the Airbus heritage department, with a decision expected next year. The future of the rest of the Grizzly fleet will be decided in due course, an Airbus Military spokesman said.

South Africa, via the then ministers of defence (Mosiuoa Lekota) and Trade and Industry (Alec Erwin), signed up as a risk-taking partner in the A400M programme in 2005. The country was in line to acquire eight of the new generation airlifters, scheduled for delivery between 2010 and 2014. This changed dramatically with production problems pushing out delivery dates and increasing costs.

By 2009 then Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu had had enough and she told Airbus Military South Africa no longer wanted to be part of the programme. This left the SA Air Force with its C-130BZs as its only airlifters. The local defence industry via Denel Aerostructures and Cape town-based Cobham had been selected and continued their supply of components for the A400M. These companies were later joined by Aerosud, which last month became a Tier One supplier to Airbus Military.

More than 18 months of negotiation between Airbus Military and Armscor was finally resolved with South Africa being repaid the R3.5 billion it deposited for the A400M.

With an estimated seven years of flying left in 28 Squadron’s C-130BZs, the SA National Defence Force (SAAF) is apparently currently busy with a feasibility/acquisition project that includes the possibility of used Il-76s coming to AFB Waterkloof, the SAAF’s home of transport excellence.

Senior Lockheed Martin personnel have been in discussion with the SAAF regarding the replacement of the BZs with the new generation C-130J Super Hercules while Boeing Military indicated late last month, via its president Chris Chadwick, it was looking at sub-Saharan Africa.
“We have begun to engage with government and industry leaders to better understand the fabric in South Africa and start establishing relationships here,” he said.