TOULOUSE — Airbus Military expects to receive the A400M type certification in July, with the start of a key test phase needed for that approval merely “a question of days,” program chief Cedric Gautier says.

Despite delays in starting the 300-hr. function and reliability (F&R) testing campaign because of problems with the TP400D engine, Airbus Military still believes it can deliver the first A400M airlifter to the French air force (MSN7) this year (AWIN First, May 21).

The test phase will run 1.5-2 months, says Fernando Alonso, senior vice president for flight and integration tests. No real data reduction is needed, so the type certificate should follow quickly after the test phase is completed.

The delivery process to France is to start in November, following a first flight nominally planned for Aug. 23. A short period of development follows to validate functions and systems not on MSN6, Alonso notes. A month of testing should suffice for that work.

The delay in F&R testing is due to an engine change because of high vibration, which was linked to a problem in balancing the powerplant. Gautier regards that incident as a minor issue. The F&R flight-test plan now has been adjusted to perform most of the testing around Toulouse to gain back some time lost as the engine change was made on MSN6.

Of greater concern is a propeller gearbox failure that caused an engine shutdown on MSN4. The failure differs from one last year on the same component that set back flight testing; in that case, key components needed strengthening. The root cause of the new event is still underway, but Gautier does not see the issue delaying first aircraft delivery, in part because of the experience gained last year in fixing that gearbox problem.

Still, if significant modifications have to be made, Airbus Military could be forced to undertake additional validation work to get approval for the changes. A major redo of F&R trials should not be needed, though.

Alonso notes that despite the engine problems, Europrop International — the engine-supplying joint venture — has been “an excellent partner” in responding to issues.

The French air force will have two crews (four pilots) trained, with the total growing to 12 by June 2013. Initial training is being done on the A400M, with pilots also logging some A380 simulator time to better understand the Airbus cockpit philosophy.

MSN7 is now progressing through its build phase, with first flight planned in the third quarter. MSN8 also is at the Seville, Spain, final assembly line, with first flight planned in the fourth quarter. France expects the airlifter to reach operational status in late 2014.

Assembly of MSN9, the first aircraft for Turkey, is gearing up, with parts arriving for a formal start of that work in mid-June. Four aircraft will be delivered before 2014.

Flight testing had reached 3,212 hr. as of May 16, with more than 1,094 flights. The high-time aircraft is MSN1, with 1,000 hr. on 324 flights since first flight on Dec. 11, 2009.

Progress also has been made in validating flight control laws during air-to-air refueling. A test campaign in 2011 identified problems, but a recent series of trials using VC10s and A330 tankers has validated changes to the flight control laws during dry contacts, Alonso says. Additional testing with Transall C160s is due in June.

“The work on the flight controls is not behind us,” Alonso acknowledges, but further refinements can be made during wet contacts, when fuel flows between the tanker and airlifter.