miércoles, octubre 14, 2009

Airbus Military Details Programme Status

End last month, Airbus Military welcomed the world’s defence and aerospace press at its Getafe plant near Madrid to provide an important briefing detailing the current status of its two main ongoing programmes, namely the A400M strategic/tactical transport and the A330 MRTT tanker/transport aircraft.
It would be useful to briefly recall the Airbus Military was formally created in April 2009, following the integration of the former Military Transport Aircraft Division (MTAD) and of Airbus Military Societad Limitada (AMSL) into Airbus. The integration allows for a single and streamlined organisation. The company is headquartered in Madrid, with main facilities in Getafe, where civil Airbus platforms are converted into Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft, and in San Pablo close to Sevilla, where the complete production and final assembly of the C-212, CN-235 and C-295 takes place next to the A400M final assembly line that was opened in 2007. In total, Airbus Military counts more than 5,000 employees.

A400M Status Report

Mr Rafael Tentor, Senior Vice President and Head of the A400M programme, opened up the briefing by projecting a reassuring and reasonably optimistic image of the current status of the A400M programme. After a turbulent and troubled period in late 2008 and early 2009, the “end of the tunnel” is now in sight.
On the political and financial side, negotiations with the customer countries on a revised contract are proceeding well, and the new agreement is expected to be finalised in October and be signed by December. Needless to say, Mr. Tentor was not in a position to comment on what exactly the revised contract will contain beyond formalising a new time schedule. The deal will almost certainly remain a single cumulative award covering both development and production, but unlike the previous programme structure whereby development and manufacture were supposed to run in parallel, there will to a stepped scheme with the two phases well separated from each other in a time sequence.
On the technical side, the first “flyable” version of the software for the engines’ FADEC electronic control system (Version 1) was delivered at the end of June to the “Iron Bird” with greatly improved quality. Version 2 release was received on 25 August correcting most of the identified issues, and the final version started testing in the fourth week of September. The EASA’s (European Aviation Safety Agency) approval of the FADEC software is being pursued, with a first successful audit on 31 July and a second one scheduled for October. The EuroProp International TP400-D6 engine itself has accumulated 3,150h of test run, and first flight clearance has been achieved in August leading to type certification being targeted for early next year.
The first aircraft, MSN1 was receiving its engines and Ratier-Figeac FH386 8-bladed propellers at the time of the press briefing, and the process was completed a few days afterwards on 29 September (when the aircraft was rolled out in July 2008, its engine nacelles were empty and fitted with non-functional propeller models). A number of development improvements have also been embodied; outdoor tests for cabin pressurisation and fuel test system tests have been completed; all aircraft systems have been tested and are ready for first flight, expect flight software that is still being loaded
The C-130 Flying Test Bed (FTB) has performed 16 flights so far for a total of about 46 flight hours. The full flight envelope has been opened without restrictions, max. engine power output has been demonstrated both a take-off and in flight, and no critical issues preventing MSN1 first flight have been identified. The FTB will perform two more flights before flight test activities are terminated. In the meantime, the MSN5000 structural static test item completed all limit load testing in early June, and an ultimate load test campaign is now starting. These developments project a high degree of confidence that MSN1 will start static engine ground run, low-speed and then high-speed taxi tests in November with the flyable FADEC software, and will fly late this year or early in 2010.
Aircraft MSN2 will complete all structural upgrade and system installation as well as system testing by the end of 2009, and will fly in the first quarter of 2010. Complete aircraft assembly of MSN3 started in mid-September, and it is scheduled to fly before summer 2010. The subsequent aircraft will be completed in a configuration progressively closer to the final military standard. MS7 will be the first aircraft to be delivered to the customer, while MS5 and MS6 will be brought to the standard operational configuration and delivered at a later date. The eventual fate of aircraft MS1 to MS4 is not completely clear at this stage, and they might or then might not became operational platforms.
The revised contract is expected to enshrine a commitment for deliveries to start three years after the first flight (i.e., in late 2012 or early 2013), with the French Air Force’s as the first recipient.
A most interesting and very promising aspect of Mr. Tentor’s presentation was it being accompanied by the release of an extremely detailed set of projected specifications for the aircraft in terms of payload/range combinations, maximum allowable TO weight under different altitude/temperature conditions, etc. Mr. Tentor was asked by this reporter as to whether these specifications were but forecasts or actual data they were prepared to assume as contractual obligations, and he most emphatically confirmed the latter. This is very good news indeed, because it indicates that the revised contract will accept for the A400M to be delivered much later (and quite possibly at a higher cost) than originally agreed upon, but there will be no significant compromises as regards performance beyond some aspects of the avionics. Mr. Tentor went to a considerable length to stress that the excessive empty weight issue, which a few months ago was known to be a serious problem, is now “under control”.

If as regards the A400M is was mainly a matter of projecting a reassuring image of the programme being on track and under control, moving to the A330 MRTT the buoyant mood of Airbus Military’s representatives could hardly be concealed (not that they were making any effort to this effect). Indeed, the important strategic investment that company decided to make in what at the time was the closely guarded preserve of US companies, and within this effort a number of key technical choices having been implemented as regards the performance and characteristics a new-generation tanker/transport would require in order to be successful on the global market, are paying handsome dividends. The A330 MRTT has won in a row all five international competitions for tanker aircraft it was involved into (Australia, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the US), and industrial activities for the first four customers are underway while the US programme is now being recompeted. The design has clearly established itself as the benchmark for advanced, multi-role tanker/transport aircraft.Three brand-new very large halls have been built at Getafe for the MRTT programme, and Airbus Military will thus be able to work on three aircraft simultaneously. During our visit, the halls were occupied by the first aircraft for the RAAF and the first two aircraft for the RAF, respectively while the KC-45A demonstrator airframe for the US programme was parked outside but with a clear view towards re-entering the process as soon as possible.Conversion activities are performed according to a scheme, whereby Airbus Military receives so-called “green” aircraft (A330-200) from the Airbus assembly line in Toulouse in a full commercial configuration, including e.g. all the seats, toilets and other internal fittings as specified by the final customer and even including civil flight certification. Upon arrival the aircraft are completely stripped down for conversion to the MRTT configuration with the integration of air-refuelling systems and military avionics, after which seats and other internal fittings are reinstalled as they were before and new civil and military certification procedures are initiated. While at first glance it would appear much more practical and economical for Airbus Military to work on “naked” airframes, the procedures as described above are necessary in order to maintain a clear-cut separation as regards the respective responsibilities for possible manufacturing errors. That is, with Airbus delivering fully completed and certified aircraft, the responsibility for any imperfection being discovered later would be traced down to the conversion programme by Airbus Military and not the Toulouse plant.
All of the ongoing conversion programmes are based on newly-built aircraft, ordered specifically for this purpose. Should A330 planes eventually becoming available on the second-hand market, it is certainly conceivable that such could be acquired by a military customer and then contracted to Airbus Military for conversion into MRTTs. Airbus Military also offers a full range of training devices for the A330 MRTT, including Integrated Procedure Trainer (IPT). Full Mission Simulator (FMS) and Part Task Trainer (PTT), with systems being supplied by either CAE or Thales.
Mr Peter Scoffham, Head of Defence Capability Marketing delivered a spirited presentation of the characteristics and advantages of the A330 MRTT, and one that would have been very difficult to resist but for the fact that nobody in the audience had deep enough pockets. This was followed by Mr. Miguel Morrell Fuentes, Vice-President and Head of Military Derivative Programmes, detailing the current status of activities for the four active customers.A total of 28 aircraft are in the current orderbook: five for Australia, 14 for the UK, six for Saudi Arabia and three for the UAE.
AustraliaThe first of five KC-30As for the Royal Australian Air Force is undergoing civil certification in Getafe, in a process that will be completed by the end of the year. Military certification is to be obtained in April 2010. Aircraft #2 has been converted in Brisbane and will fly this October, ahead of becoming the first KC-30A to be delivered to the RAAF in mid-2010. Aircraft #3 is completing conversion in Brisbane for delivery by the end of 2010, while #4 and #5 will begin conversion there next year.
United KingdomThe UK’s FSTA (Future Strategic Tanker Programme) runs under a peculiar PFI (Private Finance Initiative), whereby the Air Tanker consortium of Cobham, EADS, Rolls-Royce, Thales UK and VT Group plc. will own the aircraft and deliver air refuelling and air transport services to the RAF. Our hosts at Airbus Military politely refused to answer our questions as to the ultimate wisdom and convenience of such a scheme, but in all evidence it was the main culprit for the extenuating delays in negotiating the final contract and thus putting things into motion.
Be this as it may, as already indicated the first two aircraft are already undergoing conversion in Getafe, and will both be delivered in 2011. Aircraft #3 to #14 are to be converted in Buornemouth.

Saudi Arabia
The first aircraft for the Royal Saudi Air Force is to arrive in Getafe from Toulouse in November 2009, and is scheduled to be delivered in 2011. Based on the terms of the contract, the subsequent aircraft are to be converted locally, in a facility to be selected by Airbus Military in either Riyadh or Gedda.
UAEAll three aircraft on order will be converted at Getafe, with the first plane arriving in January 2010 and expected to be delivered in 2011.As regards other prospective customers, the A330 MRTT is in the final phase of a competition against a Russian offer for an improved version of the Il-78 for the Indian Air Force’s programme for six tankers, Boeing having apparently decided not to bid the KC-767. Independent reports, that Airbus Military would neither confirm nor deny, indicate that the IAF has already selected the European design, but the choice is being questioned by the Finance Ministry on cost grounds.

The Indian Air Force had requested a presentation of the A330 MRTT in the same three-point (fuselage + two wing pods) probe-and-drogue configuration with no boom as adopted by the RAF. This incidentally would seem to have rather perplexing implications as regards the participation by the Lockheed Martin F-16I in the Indian MMRCA competition, in that the F-16, as all USAF aircraft can only be refuelled through a boom.

----By Dr Ezio Bonsignore, Editor-in-Chief of MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH)

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