The Spanish Air Force took delivery of its first Airbus A400M on Thursday 17 November. It is the first of 27 aircraft ordered. Spain is the sixth nation to put the A400M into service, following France, the UK, Germany, Turkey and Malaysia.
Representatives of the Spanish Air Force and Ministry of Defense formally accepted the aircraft, known as MSN44, from Airbus in a brief ceremony at the A400M final assembly line (FAL) in Seville, Spain.
The A400M will replace the Spanish Air Force’s C-130 Hercules. Under an agreement signed in September, 14 aircraft will be delivered at a steady pace between now and 2022, and the remaining 13 are scheduled for delivery from 2025 onwards. It is however not clear if Spain will actually take up this last batch, as funds may not allow it. In that case, Spain could very well re-sell the aircraft.
The Spanish A400M fleet will be based at Zaragoza in north east Spain and will operate alongside medium C295 and CN235, and light C212 aircraft – MSN44 will fly to Zaragoza in the coming days.
In a ceremony at the Airbus Helicopters plant in Albacete, the Spanish Air Force on Monday 3 October took delivery of its first H215 helicopter with an extensive mission capability that includes Search and Rescue (SAR). The new helicopter will enter into service immediately and be used to offer a SAR capability to the Canary Island.
The aircraft carried out final test flights at the Albacete plant late September, where it was painted and fitted with specific mission systems enhancing its Search and Rescue (SAR) and Personnel Recovery/CSAR missions. The Air Force’s H215 boasts additional fuel tanks that extend its range up to 560 kilometers, an emergency buoyancy system, a high-frequency radio, a hoist, and a cockpit compatible with night vision goggles, among other equipment.
The Spanish Air Force operates several helicopters belonging to the Super Puma family, in both civil and military versions. A member of the Super Puma family, the H215 is a twin-engine, heavy helicopter. Its cockpit is equipped with multi-function digital screens and an advanced 4-axis autopilot which provides flight envelope protection and stability, even the harshest operating conditions.
The first Airbus A400M airlifter for the Spanish Air Force made its maiden flight on Monday, marking a key milestone towards its delivery. The aircraft, known as MSN44, took off from Seville, Spain where the A400M Final Assembly Line is located at 15:25 local time on 5 September and landed back on site 3 hours and 45 minutes later.
Test-Pilot Nacho Lombo, who captained the flight, said after landing: “As always, the aircraft was a pleasure to fly. I am confident that its unique combination of strategic and tactical capabilities will have a transformational effect on the Spanish Air Force’s air mobility operations as it has done in other countries already.”
The aircraft is scheduled to be delivered in the coming weeks.
Where’s a gas station when you need it? That’s exactly what’s going in the minds of a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) KDC-10 crew as they look for the French C-135 Stratotanker that should be flying somewhere ahead of them. Seconds later, they find the French aircraft and move in closer. It’s an obvious metaphor for closing the infamous European tanker gap. The solution comes in two shapes: the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and the Airbus A400M.
Over the North Sea and to the crew of the KDC-10, that’s all distant music. As participants in the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands, they have just finished air-to-air refuelling (AAR) twelve F-16s that take part in action packed exercise Frisian Flag 2016. Somewhere ahead and beneath them, the French KC-135 also just finished refuelling fighter jets, as did the German Airbus A310 that’s also nearby.
That’s three air-to-air refuellers in the same patch of sky, a sight not often seen as tanker aircraft are usually hard to find in Europe. The overall goal of EART is to improve flexability, efficiency and effectiveness of the combined tanker force of all zeven nations (the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, France, Spain and Italy) that handed command over their assets over to the European Air Transport Command (EATC). From Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands, EATC commands 19 tanker aircraft of various types from all seven nations. That number equals 65 percent of all AAR platforms available in Europe.
Compared to the hundreds of air refuelling aircraft available to the US, the European numbers fall far short, hence the ‘tanker gap’. However, that gap may soon be a thing of the past, given the increasing number of Airbus A400M available to France and Germany, plus Spain and Belgium in the near future. By 2025, EATC should have 80 or so A400Ms at its disposal, with roughly 40 air refuelling kits available for those aircraft. The new Airbus aircraft has been involved in AAR tests.
Moreover, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg and Poland are on course to jointly buy and operate the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). During EART, it emerged that a Memorandum of Understanding is to be signed during the NATO summit in July in Warsaw, with a contract for three or four aircraft to be signed that same month during the Farnborough Airshow.
The shared pool should grow to eight Airbus A330 MRTTs eventually. Belgium, Germany and Spain have already expressed interest in particpating in the program as well.
“EATC has been asked to harmonize A400M and A330 MRTT operations in the future”, says Colonel Jurgen van der Biezen, a RNLAF-delegate to the joint European command in Eindhoven. “What we are looking for, is an air-to-air refuelling hub that is very similar in operation to the European Heavy Airlift Wing operating from Hungary.”
Introducing the A400M and A330 MRTT as tankers increases EATC’s refuelling fleet to 69 assets, equal to 82 percent of all similar capacity in Europe. It’s a signifant increase compared to today’s situation, an increase that enables European nations to support their own – plus each other’s – operations.
It’s an idea that gets the thumbs up from all within EATC, just like the thumbs up shown by the crew of a Dutch KDC-10 tanker over the North Sea. They successfully performed some formation flying with the other two tankers in the same patch of sky. After leaving the formation, they are on their own again. But with a different feeling this time. There are others out there.
Spanish Eurofighter Typhoons and Belgian Lockheed Martin F-16s this week take over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from Hungarian Saab Gripens and German Typhoons respectively. Spain is acting as ‘lead’ nation.
Four Spanish Typhoons left their homebase of Albacate on Monday 4 January and headed for Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania. From there, Hungarian Gripens over the last three months performed 25 live intercepts of mainly Russian aircraft near the Baltics. The Hungarians clocked up 430 flying hours in total. Airheadsfly.com reported about Baltic Air Policing in Šiauliai last November, spectacular pics included.
Four Belgian F-16s- two from both Kleine Brogel airbase and Florennes airbase – are due at Ämari airbase in Estonia, previously a temporary home to German Typhoons.
The changeover ceremony for the total Baltic Air Policing mission is scheduled for Thursday 7 January. The changeover marks the 40th rotation for the mission, which in 2014 was doubled in size over increased Russian air activity.