Giant of the Skies: Atlas finds a new home at Brize Norton
Finding a home for the Royal Air Force’s mammoth A400M Atlas aircraft is no easy task. Designed and built to operate in the toughest locations, the aircraft will enhance the UK’s strategic capability and can carry up to 37 tonnes over a range of 2000 nautical miles and has a wingspan of nearly 42.5 metres.
A new £70 million hangar large enough to contain three of the RAF’s new Atlas transport aircraft at the same time has been built at RAF Brize Norton to make maintenance of the aircraft easier, safer and more efficient.
Officially opened in February by Minister for Defence Procurement Guto Bebb, the Atlas maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility, which covers 24,000 square metres and is 28 metres high, is now fitted out and fully operational in support of RAF transport operations all over the world.
Entering operational service with the RAF in 2014, Atlas provides tactical airlift and strategic oversize lift capabilities complementing those of the Hercules and C-17 fleets.
The aircraft is capable of carrying as many as 116 fully equipped troops; vehicles; helicopters, including a Chinook; mixed loads, including nine aircraft pallets and 54 passengers; or combinations of vehicles, pallets and personnel, up to a payload of 37 tonnes.
It is able to deploy troops and equipment between and within theatres of operation either by parachute or by landing on short, potentially unprepared airstrips.
The RAF will operate 22 of the A400M Atlas aircraft, replacing the versatile C130 Hercules, in support of the deployment of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force. The tactical and strategic airlift aircraft will enable the RAF to support all three Services and be interoperable, while having the ability to operate from short, unprepared landing strips as well as performing at both low level (150 feet above ground) and high altitude (up to 40,000 feet); ensuring the deployment of conventional and high readiness forces and equipment directly into the operational area.
Atlas can also carry armoured vehicles, drastically reducing the time it takes for a deploying force to be ready to fight. For humanitarian roles, it is capable of deploying mobile cranes, excavators and large dump trucks for disaster relief operations.
The UK has ordered 22 Atlas aircraft for the RAF, 18 of which have been delivered, with the entire fleet to be delivered by 2022.
The hangar is designed to make Atlas maintenance easier, safer and more efficient. The internal layout is the result of extensive feedback from support delivery teams and has been designed to be highly adaptable with easy access to specialist tools and equipment.
Minister for Defence Procurement Guto Bebb said: “From deploying troops and armoured vehicles to a war zone, to getting vital support to humanitarian disasters, our Atlas fleet plays a global role and it needs a home to match.
“This huge hangar provides exactly that and will see Brize Norton ready our Atlas fleet for action wherever they are needed in the world.”
The hangar was built under Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) contracts and cost approximately £70 million including fit-out work, with activity in the facility ramping up since late 2016 when it was handed to Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the MOD’s procurement organisation.
Support for the UK’s Atlas fleet is enabled through a £410 million agreement between DE&S and Airbus Defence and Space – part of the UK’s ongoing commitment to the Atlas programme which is sustaining 8000 jobs across the national supply chain.
Defence Equipment and Support Director Air Support, Adrian Baguley, commented: “The Atlas programme is delivering a world-class fleet for the RAF, offering the UK next-generation transport and airlift abilities for operations all over the world.
“Expert support on the ground in the UK is an essential part of that capability and this new facility will ensure that work continues for decades to come.”
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