Visiting the Belgian Air Force to discover the A400M

On the eve of the Belgian National Day, we visited the Melsbroek military base in Belgium to find out more about the country’s new fleet of transport aircraft. 

As we approached the military zone, our eyes were immediately drawn to the new A400M maintenance hangar. We entered the site at a walking pace, greeted by the 15th Wing logo….

We have an appointment with Jens, an A400M pilot with the Belgian Air Force.  

Image ©️La Defence

8 A400M Atlas ready for take-off

From the meeting room we could see the aircraft on the tarmac. We’re lucky, they’re all at Melsbroek that day: the 7 Belgian airlifters and 1 from Luxembourg.

As a reminder, it was in December 2021 that the Air Component said goodbye to its legendary C-130 Hercules at Melsbroek airbase. After almost 50 years in the service of international peace and security operations, the C-130 has been replaced by the European A400M transport aircraft.

The aircraft, which are parked at Brussels Airport next to runway 25R/07L, are maintained at Melsbroek and are ready to take off for new missions around the world.

Image ©️La Defence

More than 1,500 missions worldwide

To date, the Belgian Air Force’s A400 M aircraft have accumulated more than 8,000 flight hours. « Our missions have covered Europe, North America and many countries in Africa and the Middle East.”

« If I could give an example of a recent mission, I would certainly mention the Cerulean Skies humanitarian operation carried out last March. In two weeks, we made 9 airdrops to Gaza, amounting to 164 tons of humanitarian supplies, mainly food. At the same time, we fly to Africa almost every month, delivering water and medical equipment to our troops stationed in various parts of the continent.”

« Depending on the configuration of the aircraft, we can also carry around a hundred passengers, or plan a mixed flight combining cargo and passengers or paratroopers. Almost anything is possible… (he smiles), » says Jens. 

On board, the pilot works closely with the co-pilot and the loadmaster situated in his ‘office’ (Load Master Workstation), who plays a strategic role in load distribution before and during the flight. « Airdrops require teamwork. Each of us has a very specific job to do; for example, dropping large quantities of cargo requires a lot of concentration, synchronization, and precision » explains Jens.

A400M: more capacity, more precision

With a maximum payload of 35 tons, the A400M is capable of airdropping personnel and cargo, passenger transport, medical evacuation, and logistic support. The aircraft has a range of 6 hours with a payload of 30 tons.

The A400M Atlas CT02 in the maintenance hangar at Melsbroek (Belgium).
The size of the aircraft is striking: 45 m long, with a wingspan of 42 m and a height of almost 15 m. Photo ©️Gate.31

The A400M’s performance and advanced equipment (avionics, connectivity, etc.) enable it to carry out complex tactical missions in hostile environments. « The aircraft is very responsive and highly maneuverable, which is invaluable for this type of mission. »

Based on the Airbus A380 cockpit with additional features, the A400M’s glass cockpit has been designed to reduce pilot workload and fatigue. « For example, I like the Head-Up Display (HUD), which allows you to see all the flight data without having to look down. We’re also computer-assisted for the drops. I could give you dozens of examples of how technology is helping. One thing is clear: this is a new-generation aircraft that allows us to operate in all types of environments, including hostile ones.« 

The Air Component is modernizing.

Following the replacement of the C130 transport aircraft by the A400M fleet in 2022, the construction of a new maintenance hangar in 2021 and the opening of the BNTC* (National Training Centre equipped with a brand new A400M flight simulator), the Air Force is continuing its transformation and the modernization of its equipment.

Whereas in the past pilots and loadmasters received most of their training on real flights, almost all A400M training is now carried out in a flight simulator. The simulator is an identical replica of the cockpit. It faithfully reproduces the behavior of the aircraft during all phases of flight, whether normal, tactical, or emergency procedures. 

Image ©️La Defence

In June 2024, Belgium acquired 15 Airbus H145M helicopters for the Army and two helicopters plus three options for the Federal Police. 

To complete the A400M fleet, the STAR plan also foresees the acquisition of 3 small transport aircraft (for 2029-2032) to optimize the use of the transport fleet and to avoid deploying an A400M when it is not needed. 

Will the replacement of the Marchetti basic training aircraft of the Belgian Air Force be the next step? Only time will tell…

The Belgian Air Force takes part in the D-Day celebrations!

Belgian pilots from the 15th Wing were on hand to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day.
Photo ©️ Belgian Air Force, Kristof Moens.

Two A400M aircraft from the 15th Wing Air Transport stationed at the Orléans-Bricy base as part of a week of tactical training were used to carry out overflights. « With our American, Canadian, British, French, Dutch and German partners, we took part in the air parade on 6 June in honor of those who died for our freedom. Two F-16s from the 10th Wing completed the Belgian formation.

Powered by 4 turboprop engines of 11,000shp each, the A400M can take off from a runway of one kilometer. The TP400-D6 engines have been designed and developed by EuroProp International.
Photo ©️ Airbus Defence

Belgian involvement 

Several Belgian aerospace companies are partners in the A400M project, including ASCO, Sabena Engineering and SONACA. 


  • Flap Track Beam mechanism
  • Main Landing Gear structure
  • Flap Metallic Ribs


Manufactures and supplies flap supports and flap skins.


Provides maintenance solutions 

SONACA (Design & Build)

  • Main Landing Gear Doors & mechanisms
  • Fixed Leading Edges & Wing Icing Protection System 
  • Cowlings

The Belgian Air Force recruits 

The Belgian Air Force is looking for pilots and technicians. « It’s a wonderful job because we get to go on humanitarian or support missions, so we feel useful! Of course, it’s a job that requires flexibility: when I start the week, I don’t know what I’ll be doing on Wednesday or Thursday. Personally, I love it! But it’s certainly not like a 9-5 job (he smiles).” 

*The BTNC is equipped with a state-of-the-art flight simulator from Thales.