Airbus Tests ‘Water Bomber’ Version Of Its Military Transporter Aircraft; Blasts 20 Tons Of Water In 10 Seconds

Airbus recently tested a plug-and-play conversion kit for the A400M military transport aircraft that enables it to be converted into a water bomber as heatwaves cause an increase in the number of wildfires throughout the summer in Europe.

This summer, there have been alarming cases of wildfires caused by heat waves across Europe. In 2022, wildfires have destroyed six times as much land in France and Spain as they have in the previous 15 years.   

There is a critical need for aerial firefighting aircraft, but no EU country has this type of aircraft in substantial numbers. Thus, Airbus responded by repurposing an existing aircraft for firefighting purposes. 

“Airbus has successfully tested a removable firefighting demonstrator kit on the A400M new generation air lifter during a flight test campaign in Spain,” the European plane maker said in a statement. Airbus stated that the A400M aircraft does not need to be modified to use the roll-on/roll-off kit. 

The A400M released 20 tons of water in less than 10 seconds on July 21, 2022, in Guadalajara, Central Spain, during a test. The kit will undergo nighttime testing during the next phase of the campaign. 

The latest test by Airbus comes at a time when France and other European countries have been struggling with a lack of air resources to fight wildfires. Countries that already operate the A400M could easily expand their water bomber fleet.

Airbus Defence and Space produced the A400M, a transport plane for the military. It was put into service in 2013, and it serves as a replacement for older transporters like the C-130 Hercules and the C-160 Transall.

An Airbus A400 of the Royal Air Force

It can travel 4,500 kilometers, carrying 116 soldiers and up to 37 tons of cargo. The A400M can accurately drop water payloads at shallow heights as low as 150 feet, owing to its low flight abilities and maneuverability at low speeds.

The water is kept in a fixed tank in the cargo hold that is secured by two independent doors. These doors are linked to the two flood pipes. As a result, when the discharge is initiated, water is released through two sections at the end of the ramp.

The prototype was developed and tested in close collaboration with the Spanish Air Force’s 43rd Group, as well as European authorities in firefighting operations and the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge (MITECO). 

Objective Behind the New Kit 

A company called Canadair manufactures one of the most popular firefighting aircraft currently in use. There are fleets of these airplanes worldwide that are explicitly created to waterbomb blazes. They can hold 6,000 liters (5 tons) of water.

Airbus’s new kit successfully released 20 tons of water in less than 10 seconds during a test this week, which is three times more than Canadair’s water bombers. It must be filled on the ground because it cannot scoop water from lakes. 

Canadair CL-415 - Wikipedia
Canadair CL-415 – Wikipedia

According to the deputy head of military aircraft at Airbus, the A400M’s water bombing capabilities are meant to complement existing firefighting aircraft rather than to compete with Canadair. 

“The development of this firefighting kit is an intrinsic part of our journey towards helping to create a more sustainable and safer world, not only by our actions but also through our products,” adds Michael Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space.

“We strongly believe the A400M can play a vital role in the fight against the ever-increasing threat posed by wildfires and support the restoration of social and environmental systems,” he added. 

EU Needs More Wildfire-Fighting Aircraft?

The growing number of wildfires will undoubtedly require more firefighting aircraft, French President Emmanuel Macron recently stated. He continued by saying that they should be a part of a European fleet that could be sent to aid the 27 members of the union.

The EU’s emergency response already consists of a number of planes and helicopters that are combined from member states. However, because of climate change, there will likely be more requests for help.  

The EU is currently negotiating with manufacturers to purchase more firefighting aircraft to combat the rising risk of wildfires. Although member states technically purchased them, the EU will finance them to strengthen its coordinated response.

Another choice is to modify aircraft that European nations already use as part of their defense systems.