photo RP Defense
25 Oct 2011 By PIERRE TRAN DefenseNews
TOULOUSE, France - Industrial consortium Europrop International (EPI) is fixing the compressor blades on the engines of the A400M military airlifter in a bid to reduce wear, said President Simon Henley.
In the intensive flight test program of the Airbus Military A400M, EPI identified in the second and third quarter of this year unusual fatigue on the high pressure compressor blades of the TP400-D6 engine, Henley told journalists.
Rolls-Royce, part of the EPI group, identified a "resonance issue," or unwanted vibration when the engine was operating in a tight speed range. EPI is working on a "double fix," with a software patch as a short-term solution for the flight test program and a permanent hardware upgrade, Henley said.
EPI declined to say how much the hardware upgrade would cost.
EPI is a consortium comprising ITP of Spain, MTU Aero Engines of Germany, Safran's Snecma of France and Rolls-Royce of Britain.
The group estimates the TP400 turboprop engine will be worth more than 4 billion euros ($5.5 billon) over the life of the program. The A400M program is Europe's largest common defense program at a revised 23.5 billion euros.
EPI installed a temporary software fix for the high pressure compressor for the four test aircraft flying and is developing a full software fix that will be available for the next software release in the first quarter of 2012, the company said.
The hardware upgrade would be available "early in the production run," EPI said. The first production engines are due to roll off the assembly line for the French Air Force later this year.
The upgrade will be on "the first four production aircraft in the first quarter 2012," an EPI spokesman said.
EPI also has identified and fixed the cause of the gearbox problem which prevented the A400M from flying aerial displays at the Paris Air Show in June, Henley said.
The engine and gearbox were taken off the aircraft and run on a test rig to reveal fatigue cracks on the gear tooth, due to a particular "resonance," Henley said. EPI has redesigned and upgraded the idler gear on the Avio gearbox and the problem has not recurred, he said.
Airbus has installed 16 engines on four operational test aircraft, flying an intense rate of six to eight sorties a day, Henley said.
Four engines have been installed on the fifth A400M unit, dubbed MSN6. The TP400 was certified in May and has some 11,600 operating hours.
The TP400 engine is a source of contention between the French government and Airbus Military. French defense procurement chief Laurent Collet-Billon told the National Assembly's defense committee Oct. 5 that negotiations with industry for an A400M service contract were "more than difficult," mainly because of the turboprop engines.
"We still have not received a satisfactory proposal from Airbus, notably for the engine," Collet-Billon said. "I have told industry that, without a service contract, I won't accept the aircraft and I won't pay for them."
France wanted to sign a common A400M support contract with Britain, but as deliveries to the French Air Force were due earlier than those to the British Royal Air Force, it would be difficult to reach agreement in time, Collet-Billon said.
France would in that case sign specific service agreements for the first deliveries, he said.
"Airbus Military is working to reach an agreement on the service contract," company spokeswoman Maggie Bergsma said.
EPI was working on the same lines, a company spokesman said.
Industry aimed to have a service support in place when the A400M is delivered, an industry source said.
Regarding flight tests, Airbus was on track to deliver the first A400M by the end of 2012, said Fernando Alonso, head of flight operations.
"That is still the case," he said.
The aircraft is four years late, largely due to development problems with the engine, the largest turboprops built in the West, and the flight management system from Thales.
The target is to achieve an initial operating clearance by mid-2012, the standard agreed with the seven customer countries under a deal signed in April, which involved the governments injecting an extra 3.5 billion euros to partially cover cost overruns.
The test flight program will include heavy military content in 2012, as engineers and pilots work to secure certification by the program manager, the Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en Matière d'Armement.
Among the tests to be completed in the coming year are:
■ Airdrops with 114 paratroopers, using single and double static lines, and gravity drops of loads.
■ Loading and unloading heavy equipment, such as NH90 and Puma helicopters and big trucks.
■ Inflight refueling with a British Royal Air Force VC10 tanker, with dry and wet contacts.
■ Helicopter refueling, working with Eurocopter.
■ Landing on unprepared runways, initially a grass runway at a former MiG fighter base, Cottbus, near Berlin.
■ Tests with defensive aids, ejecting flares and chaff.
■ Passive and active sensors for missile warning.
■ Military communications, including satellite links, UHF, MIDS and Link 16, encrypted.
■ Military mission management system, an onboard computer that acts as an interface between civil and military networks and is vital for low-flying operations using a digital terrain database and ground collision avoidance.
The A400M also has to qualify for type certification with the civil authorities, the European Aviation Safety Agency.
A first for the civilian agency is certification of the pilot head-up display as the primary cockpit display, said Ed Strongman, chief test pilot.
The test pilots have flown low-level night flights with the TopOwl type 2 visor and forward-looking infrared sensors.
Under the flight test program, the four test aircraft have flown nearly 2,400 hours, with 165 takeoffs and landings. Some 60 pilots have flown the aircraft, including British, French, German and Turkish, as well as staff of the civil and military certification agencies.
Overall, the flight test program "has demonstrated it is working to our full satisfaction," Alonso said.