The Airbus A400M Atlas is Europe’s hybrid answer to the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules, designed as a replacement for older “legacy” Hercs and Transall C-160 tactical airlifters. Like the C-130, the A400M comes with a well-developed Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) capability, allowing it to operate from unimproved airfields and shorter runways in supporting troops on the ground in all sorts of normally inaccessible places around the world. The video below, which is composed of footage taken at both this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Airshows, demonstrates the Atlas’s incredible STOL abilities. In what seems to be just a matter of seconds, the Atlas, which itself weighs over a few hundred tonnes, comes to a complete stop after touching down before its four powerful TP 400 turboprop engines reverse and push the aircraft backwards. Takeoffs are just as awesome to witness with the Atlas lifting off after a very quick ground roll, entering a steep climb also known as a combat takeoff.
The Atlas can trace its roots back to the early 1980s, when a group of defense contractors, including Lockheed, British Aerospace, Aérospatiale, and Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm came together to create a successor to Lockheed’s C-130 Hercules and the Transall C-160, assuming that the actual building and testing process would begin late in the next decade. Lockheed, seeing more potential in upgrading and improving the C-130, left the group. Politics certainly played a part in the departure of the only American company from the predominantly-European consortium. The group, now known as Euroflag, was bolstered by new additions – Alenia Aeronautica, and CASA from Italy and Spain respectively. The A400M eventually made its first flight in 2009, and has since been marketed by Airbus as “the world’s most versatile airlifter“. In addition to its tactical and strategic airlift abilities, it can also function as an air-to-air refueling tanker as needed.
The A400M, however, has had a fairly controversial history. In its brief existence, cost overruns, program delays and most recently, a crash in Spain, have caused some customers to reconsider buying the the large tactical airlifter. South Africa, for example, had placed an order for 8 A400Ms in 2004, but skyrocketing costs motivated South African defense officials to nix the contract in 2009, after Airbus fell behind schedule in producing and delivering the aircraft. Italy has withdrawn as well, instead relying on its fleet of legacy C-130s and a number of newer C-130J Super Hercs.Over the course of the Atlas’s development, 176 firm orders have been placed, the last of which was made in 2005 by Malaysia – the type’s only non-European customer. Conversely, Lockheed Martin has generated 280+ orders and counting for the Super Herc, which makes sense in a way as militaries which currently operate legacy C-130s would likely seek to replace their aircraft with follow-ons. France, one of the A400m’s biggest customers (50 units, second to Germany which ordered 53), placed a request with Lockheed Martin for a small batch of C-130Js to serve in the interim due to program delays with the Atlas. Earlier this year, Germany was rumored to have been considering doing the same.