RAF Brize Norton’s first Airbus A400M Atlas heavy transport plane is nearing completion at Airbus’s factory in Spain.
And personnel from the air station are in Seville undergoing training on the plane, ahead of its arrival in West Oxfordshire later this year.
The turboprop aircraft will replace the base’s Hercules fleet and combine the Hercules’s ability to land on rough airstrips with the long range of the RAF’s Boeing C17 Globemaster jets.
The Atlas can carry 32 tonnes of cargo, including armoured vehicles and helicopters, or 116 paratroops and their equipment.
The RAF has 22 planes on order, at a cost of more than £3.2bn. Once training and testing are complete, the first operational flights are expected to be made next March.
Flight Lieutenant Chris Aston, 34, a former Hercules pilot and a member of 24 Squadron, and French air force pilot Lieutenant Colonel Ben Paillard, 36, a previous exchange officer with the RAF’s 47 Squadron, are both learning to fly the aircraft in a simulator.
Flt Lt Aston said: “It has been good to get different ideas in the way we operate. The main aim is for interoperability; to make sure, for example, that a British aircraft could fly to a French airfield, pick up a French load and fly it somewhere and they wouldn’t see any difference in the way we operate.”
Ahead of the first Atlas’s arrival at Brize Norton, RAF loadmasters and avionics technicians are also learning how to operate the aircraft.
Brize Norton-based maintenance mechanic Corporal Lloyd Hill, 32, is training in Seville to be an instructor.
He said: “I saw the A400M fly at the air tattoo at RAF Fairford and really liked it and applied for the programme, though I didn’t expect to get a place.
“There are a lot of modern systems on the aircraft and I’m excited to see it up close and see what it can do. The next phase of training will be on the assembly line and on handling the aircraft.”
Speaking after a recent visit to the Airbus factory, the officer commanding 2 Group, Air Vice Marshal Sean Reynolds, said: “As part of bringing the aircraft into RAF service, our people, including aircrew, engineers and support crew, are currently preparing at the international training centre to operate the aircraft.
Cpl Lloyd Hill in the Airbus technical training centre
“Atlas will bring a unique capability to the RAF fleet, with combined strategic and tactical abilities ensuring that it will be a key capability in the decades to come. RAF Brize Norton has an exciting future as it prepares to operate our newest aircraft.” The wings for the Atlas are made at Filton, near Bristol, and the computer software is also developed in the UK.
Rolls-Royce is a partner in Europrop, which developed the plane’s 11,000-horsepower TP400 engines.
The first plane was delivered to the French air force last September.