France’s newest tactical aircraft participates in Exercise Maple Flag 50

News Article / June 26, 2017

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By Second Lieutenant Camille Dolphin

The Équipe de Marque Avion de Transport Tactique (EM ATT), France’s tactical transport aircraft trials team, came to 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, during Exercise Maple Flag 50, accompanied by their brand new Airbus A400M Atlas.

The French have participated in Exercise Maple Flag for many years, most often in an air combat role. Their participation is similar to how they train during exercises in Europe but none of those exercises offer the space Canada – and more particularly the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range – have to offer.

Commandant Éric Brunet is the A400M division head within l’Armée de l’Air française’s EM ATT and was commander of the A400M team for the second period of Exercise Maple Flag. During the exercise, the EM ATT’s, members evaluated and tested the capabilities of one of their most recent procurements, the A400M Atlas, an aircraft made by Airbus that has impressive strategic capabilities. To do so, the team took advantage of the vast space available in Canada, along with the outstanding support of their host nation.

“The French A400M team has joined Exercise Maple Flag to implement initial operating capability of the A400M’s tactical capabilities in order to further our understanding of the systems and make the needed improvements so that the aircraft meets our operational needs,” said Commandant Brunet.

By coming to Canada the A400M team is acquiring experience. They came here to identify the best use of their aircraft, testing the technical elements, such as whether they need two or three pilots for a given flight, and ironing out the division of tasks within the aircraft. In short, they want to find the best way to use the aircraft.

The French team numbered about 40 and was made up of a range of specialists, including mechanics, intelligence officers, nine test pilots, preparation specialists and dedicated Link-16 personnel.

According to the French Air Force’s website, the A400M is halfway between the C-130 Hercules and the C-17 Globemaster and is a high-tech military transport aircraft. With four turboprops, it can carry a load of up to 37 tonnes or 116 passengers. It can carry out a wide range of transport-related tasks, in particular inter- and intra-theatre flights, assault landings on austere fields, airdrops of personnel and materiel, including from high altitude, in-flight refueling or medical evacuations.

“There is a very strong trend for vehicle weight to increase since these vehicles must be resistant to IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices]; they must be armoured, so each one weighs about 20 to 30 tonnes,” explained Commandant Brunet.

According to Commandant Brunet, the A400M is a multi-role aircraft that can conduct transport and in-flight refueling missions. The amount of fuel they can transfer is comparable to the KC-135 Stratotanker. The A400M can airdrop materiel and personnel in extremely large quantities and within a longer range. They can take off in France, fly to Africa and drop a significant payload, then continue on to a secure airfield. In essence, the A400M is a tactical aircraft with strategic reach.

When the A400M trains, it does so primarily with Dassault Rafales, so training in Cold Lake provided exposure to a greater variety of aircraft.

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