About a year and a half after the official start of the production process and about six months after the first test flight, the first Airbus A400M “Atlas” is almost ready to take off for its flight to its base at the Melsbroek military area of Brussels Airport (EBMB). The plane registered CT-01, owned by the Luxembourg army, will be operated with the 7 Belgian planes by a Belgian-Luxembourg binational unit and will be parked and maintained at the Melsbroek airbase. The first Belgian aircraft, CT-02, will also join the tarmac of the 15th Wing Air Transport in December of this year.
“We’re almost there. We are currently making the final steps of the process. Both Airbus personnel and military colleagues are doing their best to get everything ready in time for the flight to Luxembourg and Belgium. Follow me, we are going to take a look together!“, declared Major Christophe Schaber with great pride. Major Schaber is the Luxembourg liaison officer within our Belgian Air Component. In this capacity, he assisted the Chief Warrant Officer Bart Vermeire of the Belgian Procurement division in the process of accepting the Luxembourg aircraft.
On the tarmac of the manufacturer, Airbus in Seville, Spain, 10 giant A400M transport planes are parked together. In addition to the Luxembourg plane, there are two other planes with the logo of the 15th Wing adorned with the mention “Belgian Air Force”. While some technicians test the engines of CT-02, the first Belgian aircraft, other Airbus specialists are busy with the final installation of MSN109 or CT-03.
“Inside the hangar, there are still 3 Belgian planes on the production line,” explains Borja, communications manager at Airbus. “When you have toured MSN104 (CT-01), MSN106 (CT-02) and MSN109 (CT-03), we can take a look at the MSN114, MSN116 and MSN117 inside the production halls. Until planes are officially handed over to the owner or customer, they only carry the manufacturer’s production number (MSNxxx) and not the tail number (CT-XX). It’s a lot easier for us,” Borja continues as we board the CT-01.
“The aircraft’s cargo space is one and a half times the size of the C-130 Hercules and has a maximum payload of 40 tonnes. The aircraft is equipped with 4 engines, each of 11,000 hp, which are rotating in opposite directions. This provides more power with less fuel consumption. The aircraft is capable of in-flight refuelling through the nose probe. Compared to the trusty C-130 cargo planes, this plane is faster and can fly further. The cockpit is fitted with reinforced glass windows and Kevlar veneer for maximum safety of our crews during an operational deployment. The loading area is equipped with a hoisting winch so that we can handle all the loads. Below the cockpit is a loader station from which the loadmaster can monitor and operate the entire cargo space. In the next few days, our technicians and pilots will do a few more tests and we will be ready to fly to our base in Melsbroek,” continues Christophe, cutting off the power to the aircraft in the cockpit.
Inside the production hall, we discover in Station 35 the aircraft MSN114 with a Belgian flag on the tail. “The aircraft is currently undergoing all possible tests before the engines are installed and the aircraft brought to the paint shop,” Borja continues as we walk towards the main hall. “In this room, you can see MSN116 at the assembly station, this is where the nose, fuselage, tail and wings come together with all the other parts. For MSN117, we need to go to the “WINGS” section on the other side of the room. This is where the wings are assembled to be attached to the fuselage later in the production process at Station 90,” Borja explains.
“We had to wait a little longer because of the COVID-19 crisis, but no one can control that. Everyone did their best at their level. We will be heading home soon with CT-01, and CT-02 will follow by the end of this year as CT-03 eagerly awaits in the manufacturer’s parking lot to perform its first test flight. With a little luck, we will be able to welcome 4 ultramodern and versatile aircraft in Belgium next year. We will see each other again next week in Luxembourg or Melsbroek,” concludes Major Christophe Schaber with a wink and a smile!
Original text (Dutch): BAF / Warrant Officer Jozef Vanden Broeck
Photos: BAF / Warrant Officer Kristof Moens Moens, BAF / Warrant Officer Jozef Vanden Broeck
Note: The arrival of CT-01 in Belgium and Luxembourg is foreseen on 9 October. Time to be confirmed.