The aircraft used in most of the program’s extreme tests, the prototype A400M Atlas MSN4, dubbed by Airbus test teams as “Grizzly 4”, will finally rest in peace.
After nearly 12 years of heavy testing, the aircraft recently performed its 1,000th and final flight as it returned to the European aerospace group’s headquarters in Bremen, Germany, where it will be transformed into a monument.
The “scars” on the Grizzly 4’s fuselage make evident the hard work that this prototype has gone through in recent years. The test aircraft with more than 2,000 flight hours was used to exhaustion to push the limits of the project and develop to the maximum the capabilities of the A400M, today consolidated as the largest and most efficient military freighter ever developed in Europe.
Since its first flight on December 20, 2010 from Bremen, where the A400M is produced, the teams involved with MSN4 have subjected the four-engine aircraft to various types of tests to validate the aircraft’s capabilities, such as cargo airdrops, aerial refueling, low-altitude flights, landings and take-offs in inhospitable terrain, among others.
Responsible for 200 flights and around 500 hours of flight time on the A400M prototype, Ignacio Lombo, chief test pilot at Airbus Defense and Space, witnessed the “torture” applied to the prototype. “I will keep Grizzly 4 in my memory as a strong and robust beast. We have taken it to the limit in speed, Mach, altitude, load factor (g’s) and almost tore off its skin!”
Dennis Neumann, head of the A400M’s industrial program at the Airbus plant in Bremen, revealed some details about future plans for the historic aircraft, which will be transformed into a cross between a monument and an office. “Before being placed at its final location next to the Bremen Airport, where everyone landing in Bremen will see it, it will get a new coat of paint and be configured to host team meetings and workshops as well as be part of the official guided site tour”.
In service since 2013, the A400M is today the “workhorse” of some of Europe’s most important military forces. More than 100 aircraft are currently flying in the colors of Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg. The 141-ton four-engine turboprop was also exported to the Malaysian air force. Other customers awaiting delivery of the aircraft are the air forces of Indonesia and Kazakhstan.