Text: Serge Van Heertum - Pictures: Serge Van Heertum & other as mentioned - Translation: Marc Arys  İsbap 2020
 
I remember the official presentation to the press of the first Embraer ERJ-135 on 11 June 2001 in the presence of the then Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Michel "Mich" Mandl. Shortly before, just before the opening of the Paris Air Show, the Belgian General Staff had signed a memorandum of understanding in Paris for the replacement of the 20th Squadron's Lockheed C-130H's by the new Airbus "Future Large Aircraft" concept still on the drawing board and which was to become the A400M.
On 18 December 2001, together with six other European countries, Belgium signed a contract with Airbus Military for the development and purchase of the A400M. This took place at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels in the presence of the then Minister of Defence, Mr André Flahaut. Belgium undertook to acquire seven aircraft while Luxembourg opted to purchase one.
The Airbus Military Division was therefore created around the A400M concept in order to develop the successor of the C-130 and C-160 used by many nations.
Airbus Military's partners are BAE Systems, Daimler Chrysler Aerospace (Dasa), Aérospatiale Matra and Casa.
 
Future Large Aircraft (FLA)
(Airbus Media Centerİ)
December 18th, 2001. Belgium sign a contract with Airbus Industries
(Belgian Defenseİ)
 
The A400M adventure for Belgium began 19 years ago almost to the day, and it was on 08 October 2020 that the first A400M aircraft bearing the markings of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg made its official presentation at Findel airport in the presence of HRH Grand Duke Jean, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, François Bausch, as well as the Chief of Staff of the Luxembourg Army, General Steve Thull. Also present at Findel for the presentation were the Belgian Minister of Defence, Mrs Ludivine Dedonder, and the Belgian Vice Chief of Defence, Major General Marc Thys.
   
October 7th, 2020 arrival at Luxembourg Findel Airport
(Gee Daguainİ)
Welcome with little bit sun
(Gee Daguainİ)
The "Atlas" crew posing for posterity
(Gee Daguainİ)
Official presentation to the Luxembourg authorities
(Courtesy Cour grand-ducale / Sophie Margueİ)
The Belgian delegation present at Luxembourg cermony
(Gee Daguainİ)
 

As the Luxembourg aircraft will be based at Melsbroek with its future brothers in arms in black, yellow and red roundels, and this within the 20th Squadron, which btw has become bi-national, the CT-01 (code CT which the A400M will carry) took off from Findel Airport to reach its Belgian home base, not without first having made a short tour of Belgium in good company.

 
October 9th, the CT-01 circuit between Luwembug Findel Airport and Melsbroek Airbase
(ADSB Exchange via Philippe Decock)
 

We are thus on October 09, 2020 and the press was really present at Melsbroek Airport, the military part of Brussels Airport. It is 10.25 AM when the CT-01 begins its first approach to the airport, lining up on runway 25R. It is a few minutes ahead of schedule and offers the present media a superb fly-by before the break into downwind to line up for a second time on runway 25R to finally land on the runway of what will be its homebase.
After a short landing, the CT-01 returned to the military airport and, as it should be, was greeted by the airport fire brigade with the traditional welcome water curtain. The crew was then greeted at the foot of the aircraft by the Belgian and Luxembourg authorities, namely Belgian Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder, Luxembourg Defence Minister François Bausch, General-Major Thierry Dupont, Chief of Staff of the Belgian Air Component and Lieutenant-Colonel Dominique Van Den Heuvel of the 15th Wing.
So finally after 19 years, the "little" newcomer, the giant "Atlas" has arrived. He will now be able to start the assigned missions while waiting for the arrival of his first Belgian brother in December.

 
A vortex pass
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
First landing at home base
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
In front of the group: Mrs Ludivine Dedonder Belgian MOD, Mr François Bausch Luxembourg MOD, General-Major Thierry Dupont Air Component Chief
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
 
Who is the A400M?
The Airbus A400M "Atlas" is a high-capacity military tactical and strategic transport aircraft equipped with four Europrop International TP400 turboprop engines. The aircraft is designed by the Military Division of Airbus Industries and has been studied to replace older types of transport aircraft, such as the Transall C-160 and Lockheed C-130 "Hercules". The Belgian aviation industry is involved in the construction of all A400M aircraft. Companies such as Sabca, Sonaca and Asco supply parts for the worldwide fleet of this type of aircraft.
The A400M has both a high cruising speed at high altitude to ensure its logistical missions quickly and over long distances. It also has the capacity to use rough terrain in difficult theatres of operation. The A400M's capabilities enable it to transport 25 tonnes over 4,500 km or 17 tonnes over 5,800 km. Its maximum payload is 37 tons, but it can also carry 116 passengers.
Management of the A400M program has been entrusted to the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR). OCCAR was originally created by an administrative arrangement signed on 12 November 1996 by the Defence Ministers of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. The aim of OCCAR is to strengthen armaments cooperation among member states in order to improve efficiency and reduce costs. In 1998, the Defence Ministers of the four founding member states signed the "OCCAR Agreement", which was subsequently ratified by the national parliaments and entered into force on 28 January 2001. The Convention gives OCCAR its legal status, allowing it to award contracts and employ its own staff. Belgium and Spain joined the Organisation in 2003 and 2005 respectively.
Strategic air transport involves the transport of materiel such as vehicles, light armoured vehicles or large and heavy equipment over long distances. Large cargo spaces and high loading capacities have therefore become necessary to transport the full range of modern military equipment, helicopters, modular ancillary equipment, intermodal containers and heavy technical equipment. The A400M outperforms current platforms in these areas. Not only has the aircraft proved more efficient than the previous generation of tactical airlift equipment in terms of speed, altitude and payload, but it also fills a gap between strategic and tactical capability that the venerable predecessors did not have.
 
The OCCAR map
(Courtesy ComOpsAir IPRİ)
Example of strategic load
(Courtesy ComOpsAir IPRİ)
Airbus Military A400M data chart
(Courtesy ComOpsAir IPRİ)
 
Where are the "little Belgians"?
It is in Seville, Spain, that the new battle horse of the Air Component is taking shape.
Building such an aircraft is no easy task! The different parts of the aircraft are produced at different manufacturing plants and then transported to the Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Sevilla. The fuselage is built at Bremen in Germany and Ankara in Turkey, the wings at Filton in the UK, the nose section at Saint-Nazaire in France, and the tail section at Stade in Germany. The engine components are also produced at various sites and are finally assembled and tested in Germany before being shipped to Sevilla for assembly on the aircraft. Belgium is responsible for the production of certain equipment such as leading edges and landing gear doors. It takes some 24 months from the production of the first parts to the delivery of the aircraft to the customer. The first fuselage part of the aircraft serial number MSN-104 (Luxembourg A400M) was produced in Bremen on 17 May 2018, and the aircraft was delivered on 09 October 2020.
The Belgian aircraft whose construction has just been completed in Spain are the MSN-106 (CT-02) and the MSN-109 (CT-03). Both aircraft are currently on the tarmac in front of the famous FAL in Sevilla, where they will remain for some time to undergo final checks before delivery and acceptance by the Belgian Air Force.
Inside the hall, three other aircraft destined for the Air Force are in the assembly phase. The three future 'Atlas' aircraft are currently at different positions on the assembly line.
The MSN-114 (CT-04) will soon come off the production line, as it is in its final phase before it goes to the paint shop. The fuselage and cockpit of the MSN-116 (CT-05) are assembled in another part of the factory and finally, the wings of the CT-06 have just arrived from United Kingdom.

See also our 2019 report in Sevilla:
http://www.sbap.be/events/2019/011a400m2019/011a400m2019.htm
 
Map showing the different places of construction of the sub-assemblies
(Courtesy ComOpsAir IPRİ)
MSN-106 (CT-02) couple of month's ago
(Courtesy ComOpsAir IPRİ)
MSN-114 (CT-04) in the statis testing hall
(Courtesy ComOpsAir IPRİ)
 
How is the training being carried out?
In order to be ready for the arrival of the aircraft at Melsbroek, Defence has sent its most experienced C-130H pilots, loadmasters and technicians to the Airbus International Training Centre in Sevilla for a high-speed computer training (E Learning) sessions.
Next comes the fine-tuning of training through exchange programs within the Royal Air Force or Air Force operational squadrons already operating the A400M.
Belgium has sent its first pilots to its partner air forces, the Orléans-Bricy base for the French Air Force and the Brize-Norton base for the Royal Air Force, to train with local crews. Thanks to the integration and cooperation with the other European users of the Airbus A400M, several pilots and technicians have had the opportunity to undergo in-depth training and gain experience on the aircraft itself. As a result, the 15th Wing has sufficient know-how, even before the first aircraft arrives, as to start operations with the CT-01 immediately. Afterwards, the 15th Wing will be able to train the other colleagues itself.
 
Training with the Royal Ai Force at Brize-Norton
(Courtesy ComOpsAir IPRİ)
Simulator is also an important part of the formation
(Courtesy ComOpsAir IPRİ)
 

What about the facilities?
Maintenance of the new fleet will take place in a specially designed maintenance hangar. The current hangars are no longer adapted to the dimensions and technical maintenance requirements of this type of aircraft. The huge building will provide space for the simultaneous maintenance of three A400M's. It will also include all the necessary warehouses and workshops, which will be equipped with the most up-to-date technology available today.
The hangar itself, with a length of 183 m, a depth of 75 m and a height of 30 m, without intermediate pillars, is a unique construction in itself. Together with the adjacent warehouses of more or less 3,000m², workshops with a surface area of 3,300m² and the administrative premises, this building will certainly become a focal point visible from the road alongside Melsbroek Military Airport.
The hangar itself will be built on a pile foundation: 168 concrete piles, approximately 14 m long and 60 cm in diameter, will be cast into the ground and will support the subsequent steel structure of the hangar. The workshops, warehouses and offices will rest on conventional footing and concrete slabs. The first part of the semi-subterranean car park slab has already been poured and the construction work is therefore progressing smoothly.
The total construction period awarded to Democo NV is limited to one year. The delivery and commissioning of the entire building is therefore scheduled for around mid 2021, after which the 15th Wing maintenance group will be able to move into this brand new infrastructure.

 
Artist view of the new hangar that should be ready for mid-2021
(Courtesy ComOpsAir IPRİ)
 

A new page in the history of the Air Force has started, a step towards modern air transport. The arrival of the CT-01 follows the takeover of the two Falcon 7Xs (OO-LUM and OO-FAE), and it is with a certain impatience and a touch of pride that we now await the arrival of the CT-02 in December, which will wear the warm colours of our native Belgium.

 
 
19 years later !
(Anthony Graulusİ)
 
The welcome flight chart
(Courtesy ComOpsAir IPRİ)
A few days before the event, an Airbus team arrived with the EC-406 demonstrator. This team is present to help with the integration of the CT-01, 
but have also already carried out some training flights to perform different types of drops above the military domain of Leopoldsburg.
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The morning of the great day, the 15 Wing apron activities
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The newcomer Falcon 7X: the OO-FAE...
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
...and the OO-LUM
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The Federal Police Air Support is also on duty
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
One image, One symbol...
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Soon it will be an archive image to keep preciously
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
A mission today for the CH-09
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Everyone is getting ready to welcome "Atlas", the 15 Wing Red Cap...
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
...the Brussels Airport firebrigade
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Meanwhile... Above Leuze with the escort
(Jacques Vincentİ)
Turn in Wavre vicinity
(Pierre Taquetİ)
Unfortunately, the pass at Charleroi airport was compromised by dense and too low clouds... the trio could only be seen on the radar screen...
(Philippe Decockİ)
A first pass on the 25R
(Serge van Oosterzeeİ)
Taking the runway axis
(Roland Broekhovenİ)
A pass at 260 knots generating vortex effects
(Anthony Graulusİ)
Above the 25R
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
A splendid (and wet) break above the airbase
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The final approach this time
(Serge van Oosterzeeİ)
Flaps down also generating some vortex effect
(Roland Broekhovenİ)
No doubt..."Atalas" is a big one
(Anthony Graulusİ)
Strange to see the combined markings "Luxembourg" and the BAF 20 Sqn insigna
(Anthony Graulusİ)
Short final
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Touch down, the giant has landed
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
With the Steenokkerzeel church in the background...
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
...and the iconic control tower of Brussels Airport
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Taxi to the airbase apron
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Face to face with "Atlas"
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The traditional welcome shower
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Little bit wet!
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Welcome home to the mix BeLux crew
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
We like it or we hate it, but it is an impressive flying machine
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Distinguished hosts come to welcome the crew
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
For a long time, Luxembourg had no more an Air Force... things are coming back
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
A new page opens in the history of the 20th squadron
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
It is also the first time that a Belgian Air Force transport aircraft
will have the air refueling capability
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Almost 15 meters high!
The equivalent of a 5 to 6 floor house...
(Serge Van Heertumİ)

The danger line
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
View on one of the propeller and on the main landing gear
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Cargo view from the rear
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
End of the cargo bay with the main door
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Left and right view of the rear ramp 
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The seats configuration
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
A total of 120 seats can be put into service
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The pilot office
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
View of the overhead panel
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
General view of the cockpit and instruments
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Some interview: the Belgian pilot...
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
...and his colleague from Luxembourg Armed Force
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
And let's go for the next 50 years...
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
11.000 horse power just waiting to start again for the next flight
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Rendez-vous in December to meet the first black, yellow and red one!
(Serge Van Heertumİ)

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