Malaysian Defence visits A400M FAL

SHAH ALAM: IN late October, I was invited to Seville, Spain for the Airbus Defence & Space Trade Media Briefing 2015. The briefing took place at the Airbus DS facility next to the Seville airport, the site for the final Assembly Line (FAL) of the A400M Atlas and the C295 medium transport.

The original TMB was supposed to be in May but it was cancelled after MSN23, destined to be delivered to Turkish Air Force, crashed.

Apart from the briefings, we were given a tour of the Atlas final assembly line for an overview on how the latest RMAF transport aircraft are assembled. When we visited the assembly line, RMAF second A400M was on its final assembly process. A week after we left, the aircraft left the hangar for its paint job, before undergoing its flight tests prior to delivery, slated by December.

RMAF second Atlas,, M54-02, after under going its paint job.
RMAF second Atlas,, M54-02, after under going its paint job. Malaysian Defence visits A400M factory

Unfortunately due to various issues, we were unable to visit the training and simulation centres which is located on the same site. As for the Atlas FAL, the first part of the hangar we were brought were the wing and fuselage assembly hangar.

As you are aware, the major components of the A400M are assembled in various part of Europe where components are flown in from various suppliers including Malaysia’s own CTRM. The wings for example are made in the UK while the cockpit and fuselage are built in Germany. These major components are then flown in the Beluga aircraft, which is part of the Airbus network.

At one part of the hangar, at STA 72 workstation, the wings and wing- box are joined together, using a large jig.

STA72 where the wings and wing-box are join up.
STA72 where the wings and wing-box are join
up.

In the same cavernous hangar, the cockpit and fuselage section are also joined up together again using another jig. During this process the landing gears are fitted.

Cockpit of MSN39 being joint-up with its fuselage.
Cockpit of MSN39 being joint-up with its fuselage.
The fuselage joint up work-station.
The fuselage joint up work-station where the landing gears are installed.

After the cockpit and fuselage are joined, they will brought to the STA 40 work station where the wings and the vertical stabiliser are installed. The automated jig at this workstation is the biggest in hangar as the aircraft itself 45 metres long (the width of a football field) and its wings 42.4 metres.

STA40 where the final integration of the joint fuselage, wings and vertical integration takes place.
STA40 where the final integration of the joint fuselage, wings and vertical tail integration takes place.

After the work is completed, the airframe will then be towed to the STA 35A work station where the full ground tests are conducted. During the visit, MSN32, RMAF second A400M was at the station undergoing tests.

MSN32, the second A400M Atlas destined to be delivered as M54-02 to RMAF was at STA20 when Malaysian Defence visited the A400M FAL in late October.
MSN32, the second A400M Atlas destined to be delivered as M54-02 to RMAF was at STA35A when Malaysian Defence visited the A400M FAL in late October.
.

After passing the ground tests, the airframe is then moved to the next work-station where all the furnishings including the engines are installed.

STA20 where the cockpit, furnishing and engines are installed.
STA20 where the cockpit, furnishing and engines are installed.

The airframe is then taken to the paint shop where the appropriate paint scheme according to the customer are put on. Further tests and ground engine runs are performed following the paint job before the first flight test are conducted. Various flight tests are conducted prior to delivery. On average, it will take about 100 days for a single A400M to be assembled prior to the first flight test.

A Luftwaffe A400M Atlas undergoing checks prior to delivery.
A Luftwaffe A400M Atlas undergoing checks prior to delivery.

During the visit, at least three A400Ms belonging to the Turkish, Germany and French air force were in various process of flight tests prior to delivery.

French Air Force A400M Atlas (top) undergoing tests prior to delivery. Next to it is EC-404 , one of the test A400M used by Airbus DS for test flights.
French Air Force A400M Atlas (top) undergoing tests prior to delivery. Next to it is EC-404 , one of the test A400M used by Airbus DS for test flights.

A video tour of the factory.

— Malaysian Defence

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15 Comments

  1. About the atlas (is the tudm going to call it so?) cargo area.

    Has tudm started to practice and study loading of malaysian specific equipment in the atlas? Things like the EC725, a109, fennec, lynx, adnan/kifv, gempita, chaiseri first win, condors, police vehicles, cb90hex (would that fit?). Is a cargo area training simulator a part of the deal for the a400m?

    Reply
    AFAIK not yet but it will be interesting to get the Army opinion on this.

  2. There is an Airbus video on YouTube showing the 1st RMAF A400M being painted. As expected there’s a high tech set up; the paint is applied using an airbrush. For the corners and other areas however, a low tech hand held brush is used.

  3. Very good job Malaysian Defence.

    So little coverage about defence related
    matters in Malaysia nowadays, especially on the A400M
    for RMAF done by others.

    Keep it up!

  4. You guys heard from UPNM? UPNM develops locally-developed nitocellulose ammunition propellant from mangrove wood by the guy name Lieutenant Commander (Rtd) Mohd. Yol Najib Abdul Ghani Hamid. However, he say it will be available in future.

  5. ……,

    Many, many years ago when the first batch of C-17s were being produced; I remember an article in a magazine showing mock ups of various U.S. equipment, including a LAV-25; being loaded on a mock up of a C-17s cargo bay.

    I would guess that the same thing was done with the A400M and that users would know, based on specified weights, length, height and wideness, what can fit. Apparently, due to its height, the Sibmas had to loaded into a Charlie (not sure how often this was actually done) with its tyres deflated.

  6. It is just not the issue of what can fit based on the cargo hold size.

    Major armed forces like the UK and us have units specifically to study the loading of specific equipments (like even for different variants of landrover for example) inside cargo planes and helicopters, and publish standard operating procedures for each equipment.

    It is for

    – To find the best way possible to load and unload the equipment while doing it safely (like to be sure it clears all the features in the cargo area, specific items on the equipment to be dismantled for safety etc etc)

    – The most efficient time possible

    – Where to place it in the aircraft for best cg of the plane

    – How to pack it before loading (least possible dismantling for quick reaction)

    – to be done on all malaysian specific equipment like the gempita, which have many variants with different weight and size, which surely not studied by other operators of the a400m.

  7. Tambah sikit the above

    Even how and where to tie down the equipment in the plane is to be studied, to prevent damage of the equipment and the plane.

    If we have such procedures and people doing it, good. If not it is about time that we have a group of people doing this.

  8. My apology, unrelated matter.

    Marhalim, do you have any details on our G invitation to the Chinese navy to use our naval base in Sepanggar? What’s their respond? Any opinions on the pros and cons?

    Reply
    Nope.

  9. We may not have the resources of the RAF and other Tier 1 air arms or their level of experience; but we have decades of experience operating transports. Thus we can safely assume that we have a pool of people, including load masters/AQMs who specialise in such matters. By now we would have a pretty good idea as to what needs to be done for the A400M and with time, as well as data and training provided by the OEM; specific SOPs and procedures will be written.

    In the past, through trial and error as, well as self learning; we had to load various stuff that we never thought we would onto the Charlie, including a satellite to Kwajelein atoll, mobile photos lab for the RF-5Es and even hippopotamus from Bostwana 🙂 ! With the Nuris, even though he was not an officer and was junior in rank to the pilot and co-pilot (who at times had less experience than the AQM), it was the AQM who decided what was safe or otherwise; to be carried; based on factors like the size and weight of the cargo, distance to be flown and weight of the aircraft, including amount of fuel carried.

    Reply
    You forgot about the sail for the round-the world trip.

  10. Inviting Chinese ships, to use our bases, for rest and refuelling, is a smart move. Having done that, China can’t complain that USN ships are regularly visiting our bases as we have also invited China to do the same. As a small country we have to balance our relationship with big countries and play them off against the other. We can talk all we want about how China is our kawan baik and is not a threat but we train with the U.S. more regularly than with any other country.

  11. Marhalim,

    Yes the replacement sail that was flown all the way to the Falklands.

    Reply
    And it made a record of sorts, the first circumnavigating of the globe by a RMAF plane. An achievement somehow not celebrated for unknown reasons

  12. Doing by trial and error is ofcourse a necessity in daily operations.

    But by really studying those things, we can give our military and political leaders the exact numbers for any airlift movements that may be needed for them to make a decision (say an urgent hostage rescue in a faraway country that may need the use of the cb90hex assault boat)

  13. Marhalim,

    It could be due to certain allegations about the person (Azhar?). Not sure how true the allegations are however.

    On another topic it seems in 1994 the No.2 of the CIA station here in K.L. walked in the Russian embassy to offer his services – he was in bad need of cash because of a divorce. A series of meetings were held in K.L. and secrets passed before the guy was posted out. He was later arrested and jailed for 20 years.

  14. Any plan to take over the majority shares of Airbus and then remove its plant to Malaysia?

    Reply
    Even if we got the money I doubt the four governments behind Airbus will allow the factory to be sold to another country and allow all of the jobs to go overseas..

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