The Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) fleet of Airbus A400M Atlas C1 heavy-lift tactical transports has grown to 21 aircraft, following the arrival of the penultimate example (serial ZM420) at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on October 11.
This recent delivery marks a major milestone for the RAF, as it grows closer to completing the 22-strong fleet of A400M Atlas C1s that were initially ordered by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) on March 29, 2010. The delivery also comes ahead of the formal retirement of the UK’s venerable Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules C4/C5 tactical transport fleet, which is scheduled to occur in 2023. The RAF’s latest Atlas C1 (serial ZM420) completed its first flight on February 6, 2018, but it was retained by Airbus Defence and Space for testing purposes.
The UK initially planned to acquire 25 A400Ms in total, but due to financial constraints, this initial order was cut to just 22 aircraft. The first British Atlas C1 completed its maiden flight at Airbus’ facility in Seville, Spain, on August 30, 2014, before it was formally handed over to the RAF in November, that year. The type flew its first operational mission in RAF service in March 2015, when an Atlas C1 airlifted cargo from RAF Brize Norton to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
At present, the Atlas C1 is operated by No XXIV (24) Squadron; No 30 Squadron; No LXX (70) Squadron and No 206 Squadron from RAF Brize Norton. It serves as one of the RAF’s primary airlifters and will formally take over the tactical transport role from the Hercules C4/C5 following the latter’s withdrawal from service next year. It is expected that the UK will place an order for additional A400Ms in the coming years, but exactly how many has yet to be formally confirmed.