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Airbus A400M Atlas to succeed Lockheed C-130H Hercules in Belgian Air Force

This Tuesday, April 30, 2019, the Belgian Ministry of Defense organized, in the presence of the Minister of Defense, Didier Reynders, and a Luxembourg delegation, a visit to the Airbus assembly plant located in Seville to attend the merger of the hull and cockpit part of the first Belgian-Luxembourgish A400M (NSN 104).

Airbus A400M Atlas to succeed Lockheed C 130H Hercules in Belgian Air Force The first of the seven Airbus A400M Atlas bought by Belgium (plus one by Luxembourg) should be put into service at the Melsbroek military airport in May 2020 (Picture source: Belgian MoD)

In a year, the Defense will put into service the first aircraft type A-400M "Atlas" to replace the C-130 in the 15th Wing, 20th Squadron. Production of the basic components of the first Luxembourg and Belgian aircraft is underway. Approximately 24 months elapse between the production of the first parts and the delivery of the aircraft to the customer. The first large parts are currently being transported to the Airbus assembly plant in Seville (ESP). The final assembly will begin soon.

So, if all goes according to plan, the first of the seven new Airbus A400M Atlas bought by Belgium (plus one by Luxembourg) will be put into service at the Melsbroek military airport in May 2020. This new multipurpose transport aircraft will give the Belgian military aviation a new face. Many units, including the Special Operations Regiment (SOR) in particular, will use this aircraft in operations.

The A400M Atlas is sized in-between the C-130 Hercules and the C-17 Globemaster III in terms of size and speed. The Atlas is much more modern. Its airframe and propellers are mostly composed of carbon fiber, and the propellers on each wing spin counter to each other, as opposed to the C-130 which puts more stress on the airframe by having both propellers on each wing spinning the same direction. In addition, the A400M has a major advantage: air refueling.

The Hercules has a cruising airspeed of 325 knots (375 mph), while the Atlas has a cruising speed of 421 knots (485 mph). The Hercules has a ferry range of 2,047 nautical miles, and the Atlas has a ferry range of double that, at 4,698 nautical miles. The Atlas surpasses the Hercules in carrying capacity and minimum crew: the Hercules needs a crew of five (two pilots, a flight engineer, a radio-navigator and a loadmaster), where the Atlas has a crew of three (two pilots and a loadmaster).

The Belgian Special Operations Regiment and the A400M

The commander of the SOR, Colonel Vincent Descheemaeker, spoke about the carrier: "This is a brand new capability. The A400M enjoys greater autonomy than its predecessor, the C-130, which is why it can perform tactical and strategic tasks. We will be able to deploy our troops further and be faster on the spot. " With a range of 8,700 to 8,800 km, it will be possible to fly directly to distant conflict zones.

The larger loading area is also convenient in terms of personnel for the SOR. Indeed, the A400M can accommodate 116 fully equipped para-commandos. But as they are used to jumping from the C-130, a new way of working is now required. "Tests have already been done to evaluate the droppings," says Colonel Descheemaeker. "These are not the responsibility of Airbus but under the responsibility of the countries that will use this device. We are working to do this with, among others, the French, the Germans and the British. "

The A400M is ideal for airborne operations. Special Forces Group jumps at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) or unloading of humanitarian cargoes at 15 feet (4.57 meters) are all part of the range of tasks assigned to the SOR.

Colonel Descheemaeker is also aware of the changes to be taken into account: "The A400M is much more electronic. We will also have to determine the center of gravity of the aircraft so that our vehicles in the cargo hold do not affect it. The parachuting method of the troops will change too. The SOR hopes to complete its first missions with the A400M by the end of 2021".

Airbus A400M Atlas to succeed Lockheed C 130H Hercules in Belgian Air Force 3 Comparison of sizes between C-17 Globemaster III, A400M Atlas and C-130J Hercules (Drawing source: via StackExchange)

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