All dissected, the A400M “warrior” made its first flight with sustainable fuel

Photo: Airbus

Last July, the Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) flight test campaign was initiated by the A400M program team with the Military Air Systems unit of the Defense and Space division (Airbus Defense and Space). The first test flight using 29% SAF on one of its 4 engines proved successful, advancing the decarbonization of military flight.

As the European aerospace manufacturer reports, a mix of nervousness and emotion washed over team members on the runway at the Airbus factory in San Pablo, Seville, Spain, on a blisteringly hot day in July, when the first test flight with SAF was finally arrived with an Airbus A400M.

MSN4 (aircraft manufacturing serial number), registration EC-404, or “Grizzly 4” as it is known within the team, entered the runway with one of its engines, in particular engine number 2, powered by a fuel mixture containing 29% SAF.

For this first flight we are using a type of SAF called HEFA (Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids) which is made from used oils, vegetables and fats, and also free of aromatics and sulfur, so it is very efficient and good for engines.. It is an alternative fuel, which means there is no need to modify engine systems and there are no technical limitations.“, explained Ana Belén Blanco, technical manager of SAF on the A400M.

For this first test flight, the use of the SAF was limited to a single engine in order to better analyze the behavior of the fuel circuit supplying a single engine.

The test flight headed north to Huelva and then landed safely in Seville, making a trip of over an hour in total. The satisfaction of the crew can already be read on their faces when they disembark from the plane, ready to share the result.

During the flight we did a rough comparison between engine number 2, which used SAF, and the other 3 engines which used standard Jet A1 fuel, so we had a great opportunity to compare the performance of the different fuels.said César González, flight test engineer at Airbus Defense and Space.

The results we obtained confirmed that the use of this mixed SAF does not affect the performance of the engines or the aircraft, so that the A400M can receive its full potential in terms of environmental benefit.added Gonzalez.

Photo: Airbus

SAF is a proven alternative fuel that can reduce lifecycle CO₂ emissions by up to 85% compared to conventional fuel. The first flight of an A400M using SAF demonstrated that the aircraft and its previously untested TP400-D6 engines meet these new requirements with a 50% blend of certified SAF for more sustainable military aviation.

Airbus and EuroProp International, responsible for the design, development, manufacture and support of the TP400-D6 turboprop, have agreed to establish the common roadmap for 100% SAF certification, making this first flight a step towards this goal.

With more than 100 A400M aircraft deployed in 8 different countries, Airbus comments that providing the ability to use SAF is one of the company’s priorities. “Our operators have expressed their desire to use SAF in their military operations and we are here to meet your needs.said Rocío Gutierrez Alonso, Chief Engineer of the A400M plant.

Photo: Airbus

‘Grizzly 4’: A seasoned warrior for a crucial mission

For such an important mission, one of Airbus’ most experienced “warriors” was needed. The ‘Grizzly 4’, in service since December 20, 2010, was selected among the “troops” to carry out this first test flight with SAF at Airbus Military Air Systems. And so MSN4 sees itself guiding its successors into the future: the decarbonization of military aviation.

MSN4 has been used for all sorts of tests over the years. Among them, he was instrumental in the development and certification of Air Refueling (AAR) capabilities such as refueling and receiver, in addition to cargo and parachute launches.

This first flight with SAF is number F994 in MSN4’s impeccable service record, so there are only six flights left for a well-deserved “retirement” after nearly 2,000 flying hours.

The 4′ Grizzly shows its wear and tear from all operations, but its toughness, capability and reliability have remained intact throughout its career. The manufacturer stresses that the plane is still in good shape to fulfill one of its last and crucial missions: to lead the way towards more sustainable military aviation at Airbus.

The race for sustainable military aviation

This first flight, performed with an engine using mixed SAFs, is a first step in the long-term roadmap on which Airbus is committed to achieve the preparation and the 100% SAF certification of the A400M.

Airbus A400M operators have recently expressed interest in using 50% certified SAFs. Airbus’ objective was therefore to carry out this first test flight within the framework of its best practices. Following its successful performance, four-engine operators can now fly using up to 50% certified blended fuel, and Airbus will continue to support them through the process.

Additionally, Airbus, OCCAR and the A400M nations are involved in initial discussions to develop the roadmap for certification and operational use of 100% SAF on aircraft. In this SAF project, all Airbus divisions work closely together to share knowledge and lessons learned.

This flight of an A400M using SAF is a first step in our division that creates the momentum needed to move steadily and persistently at an efficient pace on this path to sustainability.“said Gutierrez.

Moving forward, further SAF flight tests are planned in the coming months for the C295 and A330 MRTT, which will soon join the A400M in this race towards sustainable military aviation.

Airbus Information

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