On Friday 9 October 2020, the very first Airbus A400M Atlas for the 15th Wing Air Transport of the Belgian Air Force landed at Melsbroek Air Base.
The aircraft, wearing military registration CT-01, took off from Luxembourg Airport (LUX/ELLX) on the early morning of Friday 9 October 2020 and operated flight BAF665, a welcome flight over Luxembourg and Belgium. It flew over some of the most important cities of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Belgium such as Luxembourg, Arlon, Liege, Hasselt, Antwerpen, Gent, Mons, Charleroi and Namur before heading towards Melsbroek Air Base (EBMB) which is situated at Brussels Airport (BRU/EBBR). During a part of the welcome flight, the aircraft was escorted by two Belgian Air Force F-16 fighter jets.
At around 10:40, the aircraft appeared on final approach for RWY 25R at Brussels Airport. However, instead of making a full stop landing, it performed a low level flyby over RWY 25R, followed by a sharp right turn climb before entering a right hand traffic pattern for RWY 25R. Few minutes later the aircraft made a smooth and uneventful landing on RWY 25R. After a traditional water salute and coming to a complete stop on the military apron, all four engines were shut down. The aircraft and its crew were welcomed by the Belgian Minister of Defence, the Commander of the Belgian Air Force, other representatives of Belgian Defence, local authorities and members of the press.
Bilateral partnership between Belgium and Luxembourg
The Belgian Air Force and the Luxembourg Armed Forces decided to jointly operate their fleet of Airbus A400M Atlas military transport aircraft. For this purpose, both nations signed a bilateral partnership agreement in 2001. The Luxembourg Armed Forces purchased one Airbus A400M Atlas (CT-01, which has now been delivered), the Belgian Air Force ordered seven aircraft. All eight aircraft will be operated by the ‘Belgium-Luxembourg Binational Air Transport Unit A400M’ (BNU A400M) of the 15th Wing Air Transport, based at Melsbroek Air Base.
Next to the delivery of the eight aircraft, the bilateral partnership for jointly operating the fleet of Airbus A400M Atlas aircraft also includes a major infrastructure programme at Melsbroek Air Base. One of the most significant parts is the construction of a new complex for maintenance work on the Airbus A400M. This new maintenance complex will cover an area of 13,621 m2. The estimated cost is 49,6 million euros. The construction of the new maintenance complex is well underway at moment of writing and should be finished by mid 2021.
Lockheed C-130 Hercules replacement
In the Belgian Air Force, the new Airbus A400M Atlas will replace the ageing fleet of Lockheed C-130H Hercules military transport aircraft. The Belgian Air Force has been operating the Lockheed C-130H since 1972 but, after almost fifty years, the type is now nearing the end of its useful life in the Belgian Air Force.
The Airbus A400M Atlas can carry a payload of 37 tonnes, almost twice the payload of the Lockheed C-130H Hercules. The range with a full payload is 3,300 km (1,800 nm), the range with a 20 tonnes payload is 6,400 km (3,450 nm).
At moment of writing CT-02, the second Airbus A400M Atlas for the 15th Wing Air Transport, was already fully manufactured and was undergoing flight testing in Seville (Spain), where the final assembly plant for the Airbus A400M Atlas is located. The aircraft is planned to arrive at Melsbroek Air Base in just a few months.
Hi-res versions of my photos of the arrival of Airbus A400M Atlas CT-01 at Melsbroek Air Base are available here.
9 October 2020
All photos copyright © Ivan Coninx unless stated otherwise.