South African Air Force chief Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano says he expects an update from Airbus Military on the development of the A400M Loadmaster in December.
The SAAF was scheduled to receive eight A400M aircraft between 2010 and 2012, but a series of delays have scuppered that timetable and Gagiano says he expects deliveries to start a year late.
Gagiano says Airbus will on 5 December conduct the maiden test the EuroProp TP400-D6 engine developed for the Loadmaster aboard a Lockheed Martin C130 Hercules test bed. Reports indicate that much of the programme`s delay is the result of development problems with the aircraft.
The success or otherwise of the test will help determine the delivery schedule of the A400, he said.
“This aircraft is extremely important to us,” Gagiano says. “The engine has not flown yet, there are some weight problems; the whole system must still get together.
“It`s the most unusual aircraft. If you look at it from the front all you see is propeller. It is a drastic new design and there might be some other problems that will crop up. It would be unfair for me to speculate [on when the SAAF will receive the aircraft].
“The delay seems to be six months plus six months. We will have a better idea after 5 December.”
SA ordered eight of the aircraft for R7.4 billion in 2005 under the programme name Project Continental.
Replacing the “Herc”
They will replace the C130 in SAAF service.
“The C130s are B-models and in service since the early 1960s,” says Gagiano. “When a person gets that age, one morning you wake up and you have a knee problem, the next morning it`s the shoulder, and so on. Aircraft are the same. As they get older, they develop these things overnight. The only way to stop it is to fly them regularly and continuously…”
Gagiano says the SAAF is now nursing its C130 fleet to cater for all eventualities. “We must position ourselves; we must nurture these c130s until we have the A400s fully in service.”
Gagiano says his ground crew say the C130 has some life yet.
“One chap has been working on the C130 for 28 years; the average experience is 25 years. He says the aircraft can still last beyond 2020. But I wouldn`t put all my money [on that].
Gagiano says 28 Squadron currently has “seven of the nine operational.” The remaining two are still being upgraded.
“We are wondering if whether for the interim we should not focus on a smaller number, rather than flying all nine.” Gagiano says the figure under consideration is six.
Meanwhile, the C130 fleet is suffering from antenna damage while supporting the United Nations, the CAF says.
“My argument is this need to be escalated to operational level. We need to tell the UN to sweep their runways, or we cannot use the runway. An antenna costs thousands of Rand and the damage is avoidable. If they expect us to use a runway it must be in a proper state.”
“Our intention is also not to reinvent the wheel [when introducing the A400M]. OT&E (operational testing and evaluation] takes a long time; we have good relations with the Spanish air force, the Royal Air Force and the German air force.
“The intention is to do our training and OT&E with these air forces, so the moment the aircraft arrive in SA we have all the training, books and OT&E done so it hits ground running.
“Meanwhile, we`ll keep pressure on Airbus Military to make them know how important the aircraft is.”
Gagiano says a new facility will be built to house the A400M fleet and the 60 Squadron personnel who fill fly the plane. The new facility will be built on the eastern side of the confluence of the main and secondary runways of Air Force Base Waterkloof in Pretoria.
Project Engineer Bruce Morton says the facility will include a hardstand, two maintenance hangars, two more minor maintenance hangars and four storage hangars, in addition to logistical, operational and training facilities.
The hangars will be huge, the largest measuring 65x65x18m high. Hardstand construction will last from July 2009 to June 2010, hangar construction from September 2010 to January 2011 and facilities building from March 2010 to March 2011.
60 Squadron until recently operated the Boeing B707 and Gagiano says their old hangars will be used for C130 maintenance. He adds that the disposal plans for the B707s were recently tabled before the minister of defence.