Pilot Report Proves A400M’s Capabilities

By Fred George
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

During start, as each feathered prop began to accelerate to 180 rpm, vibration was palpable. But after the engines had stabilized and we moved the master switches from feather to run, vibration all but vanished as the props sped up to a 650 rpm ground idle.

Releasing the parking brake, idle thrust barely moved the aircraft. We had to advance the power levers to start taxiing, but once rolling the aircraft accelerated. Strongman suggested modulating the power levers for inboard Engines 2 and 3 from beta range or even partial reverse and back to ground idle to control taxi speed. The carbon brakes were smooth, as was the nosewheel steering.

We lined up on Runway 14R. When cleared for takeoff, we rapidly advanced the thrust levers from flight idle to the forward stops. The engines smoothly accelerated and the props stabilized at 860 rpm, producing moderate noise in the cockpit. I recommend active noise-attenuation headsets, but judge takeoff noise levels in the cockpit to be far below those encountered in a C-130 or most other turboprops.

With a 5.25:1 weight-to-power ratio, aircraft acceleration was brisk, but smooth. For rotation, we pulled back about halfway on the sidestick and released it when the nose came up to 20 deg. The fly-by-wire system's flightpath stability function maintained the commanded pitch and wings-level bank attitudes as the aircraft accelerated and we retracted landing gear and flaps.

As the altitude alert sounded, signaling our approach to the 3,000-ft. initial clearance altitude, we pulled the power levers back to the managed thrust detent, ceding control of the engines to the auto-throttle system, which slowed prop speed to 730 rpm and reduced power to about 9,460 shp for climb. The slower prop speed greatly reduced cockpit sound levels.

As with Airbus jetliners, the A400M's power levers are not back-driven. They remain frozen in position at the managed power detent. In my opinion, moving power levels provide flight crews with useful visual and tactile cues to the auto-throttle functioning.

We leveled off at 3,000 ft. and 250 KIAS and selected the engines' low noise-contour operating mode, reducing prop speed to 650 rpm to minimize aircraft sound profile over hostile territory. It also minimized the noise footprint over civilians in Toulouse.

Using the flightpath vector symbol on the head-up display (HUD) and taking advantage of the FBW flightpath stability function, it was easy to hand-fly the aircraft and maintain heading and altitude. Minor inputs to the side stick were all that was needed to make small corrections to the flightpath.

Nearing Toulouse-Blagnac, we found a hole in the clouds, banked sharply to the right, dived to 500 ft. AGL and accelerated to 280 KIAS as we headed for Garonne. There was plenty of low-altitude turbulence from a large storm in the vicinity, but the flightpath stability function made the aircraft easy to control.

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