ON BOARD – Armée de l’air A400M & Rafale

When we talk about the Air Force, we usually approach such topics with trepidation, the information is often unavailable and limited, and everyone is careful with the information they present. But the French Air Force, or known as Armée de l’air, breaks this tradition.

At the last Paris Air Show, the French decided to show all their splendor, from helicopters, transporters, combat and patrol aircraft, trainers, and even equipment for army units, weapons, etc.

It was difficult to choose from everything on display. What would be worth standing in line and waiting for about 40 minutes. The choice fell on two aircraft: Airbus A400M and Dassult Rafale B.

First, we decided to look at the Airbus A400M, which, with its appearance and central position, dominates the static display of LeBourget. Before entering the plane, we received a detailed presentation of the plane itself. The French pilots on the A400 have given their best to explain everything about the aircraft, including statistics, performance, purpose, range, etc. Once you see the interior of the A400, I think it’s impossible not to wonder how this thing flies. The huge space provided for various cargo somewhat “kills” the feeling that you are in a plane at all, but rather in a warehouse. The space is equipped on both sides with “seats”, or better said folding benches that are more reminiscent of seating nets. It was interesting to see the Airbus details that we usually see in passenger planes in this kind of military variant.

For those of us who are usually interested in civil aviation, it was a bit difficult to remember all the information about the aircraft, as well as the purposes for which it can be used. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see how the aircraft, although part of the French Air Force, is in the civil registry, i.e. it has the registration of the French Civil Aviation Agency – F-RBAQ.

Registration: F-RBAQ
Type: Airbus A400
Age: 3.6 years (August 2023)
Test registrations: EC-400, A4M102
MSN: 102
Place of production: Seville
Delivered: 24/04/2020
HEX: 3B7762

After visiting the cargo area, we climbed the ladder into the cockpit. The cockpit you probably imagine is cramped, but this is anything but such. A group of 10 visitors fit comfortably in the cockpit of the A400, we all even had a place to sit. The cockpit is otherwise based on the architecture of the A380 cockpit, with certain changes due to the type of engine (turboprop versus jet), as well as due to the purpose itself and the different nature of flight operations. Visibility from the cockpit, which is located literally on top of the plane, is excellent, and such a spacious cockpit truly positively affects the feeling you get from staying in this, as some members of the group called it, flying factory.

Eight air forced currently operate the A400M in their fleet – Germany (37), France (19), Spain (13), UK (22), Turkey (10), Luxembourg (1), Malaysia (4), along with Kazakhstan (2 ordered ) and Indonesia (2 ordered with 4 options).

Speaking about the Rafale, we concentrated more on the information when we could see them in the Croatian skies, in relation to the technical characteristics of the aircraft. The friendly pilots did their best to explain the aircraft and systems to us as much as possible, but I have to admit that my hearing and understanding what they were saying decreased drastically once I sat in that truly magnificent cockpit. But more importantly, everyone from the French Air Force knew that Rafales were coming to Croatia, that we were expecting the first ones around this Christmas, and that our pilots were in training. We have to admit that we were flattered to hear such and similar comments, and generally to hear praise for the HRZ fleet. The only thing they didn’t want to comment on was the level of equipment or weapons, which is understandable at this point.

A few meters away, in the chalet of Dassult Aviation, there was a mock-up of the Rafale in HRZ colors, which are not too different from the previous livery. However, what we did not manage to find out is whether one aircraft in the new squadron will be in the popular “kockica” livery.

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