In flight with the Belgian A400M. What a machine!

(B2 to Melsbroek) We were able to board the new European transport aircraft for a two hour flight. Story

the A400M on the tarmac at Melsbroek airport (© NGV / B2)
  • This device equips the French, German, British, Spanish, Turkish, Belgian… and Luxembourg armies. These two countries have formed a joint unit (articles to follow) which will ultimately have eight aircraft.

It was hot, almost stifling, on the tarmac that day. The aircraft, bearing the Belgian cockade, is ready for takeoff. Rear door open. A guard of honor, formed by the men of the SOR (Special Operations Regiment), awaits the hosts of the day, the High Representative of the EU (Josep Borrell), the Luxembourg Minister of Defense (François Bausch) and General Fréderik Vansina, who represents the Belgian Minister of Defense, Ludivine Dedonder, “ retained in the House (1).

SOR paratroopers in guard of honor before departure (© NGV /B2)


Canvas seats placed on the side (like the classic one on a military transport plane), belts attached (a little more complicated than the old belts of the C-160 Transall), we sit like paratroopers. In the center, the cabin seems almost empty. We can fit several armored vehicles, even a helicopter. This time, it's just a 'small' vehicle, the Jeep Fox used by paracommandos like the Special Operations Regiment.

In flight (© NGV / B2)

Direction Florennes

The engines heat up, accelerate. The plane rolls onto the runway. We feel the thrust of the engines which raise the towers. But when the wheels leave the ground, the shudder is barely perceptible. A few seconds later, as if on parade, the plane turns, direction: Florennes (near Namur) and its air base. One or two passes to the right and left, just to show the device in maneuver. We remain 'nice'. The plane stabilizes at approximately 1000 feet. We can see the fields and houses quite closely. “ We could fly lower. But there was a lot of traffic today. And we preferred to be a little higher » confides the pilot at the end of the flight.

In the cabin of the A400M – post-flight briefing – in the background, General Vansinna (© NGV B2)

Tactical pose to deposit men and equipment

We are in sight of Florennes airport. It’s 17:43 p.m. It doesn't drag. As soon as the plane lands, the rear door deploys. As soon as the rear door hits the ground, the commandos dismount. The light vehicle, a Fox (manufactured by the British Jankel) which replaced the old Jeeps, follows. Mission accomplished for the airmen. The plane door closes. Time to restart the engines at full speed, to drive on the track. And we take off again. Two minutes at most have passed since the landing!

We go down the Fox (© NGV / B2)

An all-terrain device

This is one of the typical missions of this device: rapid deposition of materials. It can also deploy containers. There are many others: transporting logistics or personnel over a long distance, night vision, medical evacuation, dropping personnel behind parachute lines or dropping containers. “ We can drop 34 containers, in all 15 tons, in 30 seconds explains an officer. " It is a versatile, fast aircraft that can be deployed in hostile environments. ».

(Credit: Belgian Army – Sedeyn-Ritchie)

Twice as fast, farther, stronger than C130s

« It's very simple » — summarizes Frederik Vansina, former head of the Belgian Air component and current Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy (ACOS Strat), “ with this device, we carry twice as much, twice as fast and twice as far » than the old C-130s which will leave the entire Belgian fleet by the end of the year. “ This is a big improvement for us confirms an officer, bluntly. " For a long distance, for example to go to DR Congo, we can do this in one day, with a single crew. With a C-130, it took us two – three days without counting stopovers and relays.


On the way back, the VIPs are amazed. The 'aerials' scored a point.

What a machine!

« What a machine, huh » exclaims Josep Borrell when I ask him for his impressions upon arrival. “ Planes are already beautiful. But this is wonderful. This is truly one of the great results, a flagship of the European aeronautical industry. » The head of European diplomacy is so enthusiastic that he never stops photographing the camera with his mobile phone at every angle, stopping photographers who would like a break there. The enthusiasm does not seem feigned.

Photographers subject to tough competition (© NGV / B2)

My youth in the Air Force

To demonstrate its ability in flight, the two personalities on board (Josep Borrell and François Bausch) were entitled to the opening of side doors reserved for parachutists. They are harnessed. The air shudders… “ It's an impressive experience especially when we opened the door for the parachute drop » the Spaniard will then tell. “ It reminded me of my youth. I did my military service in the Air Force. We were doing the same thing. Well, the plane was smaller, a little less modern. But the feeling of the air flowing around you, when you are near the door, forcing you to make an effort to jump, was the same »

One of the flagships of the European aeronautical industry

This device is one of the flagships of the European aeronautical industry ". It's a " outstanding example of European cooperation » continues the head of European diplomacy in a more political manner. Having all these planes placed under the umbrella of the EATC in Eindhoven, “ is a practical example of how we build defense Europe. If we want to spend better, we must spend in a more coordinated way. The fragmentation of military capacity in Europe costs us a lot. We could do more if we used our capabilities, our industries together… »

…But we could do even more

« We must not only cooperate by buying planes, but also by using them. All countries can participate in this aircraft project also by using it. » What we call pooling. Something else " very important » : missions and operations. " It's a good school for our soldiers to work together. Not only to serve their country, but also to share their views among Europeans, to step by step create a European capacity. »

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

To be continued : the Belgian-Luxembourgish binational unit, a model of its kind

  1. The minister got a little entangled in the Jurgen Conings affair and was 'hung' by several opposition deputies, but also a little by the majority not very satisfied with her answers, but also with the conditions of communication of the report (which has already partly leaked to the press).

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).