back to article RAF's new military airlifter finally lumbers into the air

Another doleful milestone for British taxpayers and servicemen today, as the A400M military transport plane takes to the air for its first test flight. The A400M - a decade late and massively overbudget - continues to drain the UK's defence coffers though better alternatives are readily available: meanwhile our fighting troops …

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Hold on let me get this right

We already own C17's. We have pilots and navigators trained to fly them? Engineers trained to maintain them? Presumably we've also got the complementary Lockheed care plan and a warehouse full of spares to keep them in the air. The plane is available like now...

...and we've decided to go and buy something else?

The MoD simply isn't fit for purpose. We should scrap it, flog off the buildings and sell the defence contract to Tiscali who after all, have a record of ruining life for millions of people that the British military can only aspire to.

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Boffin

No, we don't own them...

Yet - we only rent them, but IIRC there is an option to buy. However, the advantage of the A400M over the C-17 is its ability to land on small, rough unprepared airstrips, which is probably what's swinging the decision.

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How sad,

We used to be right at the forefront of aircraft design (TSR2/SR177 and oh so many others) not to mention other forms of transport (hovercraft) and though there were plenty of gaffs (the Lightnings' endurance) it wasn't until the USA pulled the 'it will all be done by missiles' line that the government of the day decided to kill off the British aviation industry.

This half-arsed mucking around approach is even worse - either we develop our own stuff entirely, or we buy from over seas, trying to do both at the same time is madness.

Right - time for a coffee.

ttfn

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Grenade

It all dates back to 1958...

I think it was 1958 - the infamous Duncan Sandys report on the future of warfare. All wars are going to be fought with guided missiles, said Duncan. So we don't need any more aircraft, ever. Oh, I guess the V-bombers are too far along in their development to cancel, what a shame.

At that moment Britain lost the lead in the development of military aircraft, and has not regained it since. All the attempts to do so have been in conjunction with the whole of Europe, which has naturally doomed them to fail.

Find the man and string him up. He did more harm than all the Soviet forces put together.

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Pint

Take a parachute and Jump

You are missing the point: C-17 is a jet, and this one is a prop. EADS already has its dual-use jet, which blows the C-17 away (large dual use props would be a hard sell, this is why it became 2nd dev).

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Missed leave...?

"Often missing large chunks of their hard-earned home leaves waiting for delayed or cancelled planes;"

Happens in civvie street all the time.

Terminal 5? 9/11? Ryanair...?

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Flame

wider thant just shopping

While not wishing to parade my ignorance of procurement etc. by commenting on the details of times, prices, requirement and capabilities (bet the Antonovs are much cheaper and better value? USA not always equal to good or best), does this author ever consider that when a government spends money, it has to think rather wider than cost or even, unfortunately, immediate and narrow purpose.

High tech. projects in particular are about more than the kit itself, especially when combined with manufacturing. They promote technical and manufacturing ability and development, train and employ people now and for the future and, when multi-national, including EU wide, are important elements of diplomacy and international relations.

I would agree about the apparent contradictions in buying kit that depends heavily on a non-European source for important components.

But perhaps the real thing to consider is the raison d'etre in the first place. The author notes the UK forces' many foreign adventures. Surely, the real question is, whatever or whoever for? Without these all too often pointless and not-serving-our-interests relics of times past or grovelling to a country that could not give a toss about us or is even negative towards us, we would not need most of this expensive kit anyway - problem and budget solved (though may be unemployment not helped!).

Perhaps those who think that supporting the USA in its global pretensions is good should move there and join their army directly rather than make UK a proxy for it.

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Pork barrel engineering benefits no-one

"High tech. projects in particular are about more than the kit itself, especially when combined with manufacturing. They promote technical and manufacturing ability and development, train and employ people now and for the future "

I disagree, they promote "dinosaur" processes for both design and manufacture - these skills are not useable in any commercial context, they live only in their own time-zone, decades of development, and cost zone, millions.

Engineers trained in this manner are all but useless at anything else, sorry guys.

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Alert

I blame..

..Frank Whittle for this! If it wasn't for him and his jet engine witchcraft we would all still be perfectly happy with the likes of the Avro York, the Douglas Dakota and Handley Page Hastings!

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Coat

It flies!

Before people suggest getting C-17s instead of A400M, the C-17 is a strategic airlifter, the A400M is a tactical airlifter capable of conducting some strategic tasks. The C-17 is incapable of conducting a tactical role. The UK's tactical lift is based on C-130s which HAVE to be replaced soon, there is no life left in them. More replacement C-130s is very undesirable for a number of reasons.

Knock the A400M all you want Lewis, it does a heck of a lot that no other plane can do, that comes at a price. I bet you didn't even know some mad Americans were floating the idea of buying some A400Ms too?! A bit of competition is good for the market place, having to shop only American or Russian for your airlift needs gives them far too much power. The A400M may be late, expensive and not perfect, but it is a rare example of European hi tech and innovative thinking which it is politically and economically important to support.

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Anonymous Coward

What's wrong with the Herc?

Why are more replacement C-130s very undesirable? It may be old but it works.

And there are other alternatives to Russian and American manufacture: the Chinese have announced a 200-tonne military transport aircraft (I'm not sure why the first page I found it also advertised replica Rolex watches, but then I evidently don't have much understanding of Chinese military culture).

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Yes

The A400 was called the heavy lift aircraft. Fly a tank in, kill a few people, and bring everyone back to base for tea.

The Hercules crash during the Kosovo war is relevant. It was full of SAS troopers off to heroics.

But delayed projects are always failures because the early work is out of date.

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Grenade

except Afghanistan

were the Russians took their tanks and got blown to bits. The modern army should take a look at the effectiveness of lightly armed paramilitary fighting uints as a bluepriont for the future not massive overly-logistical long range operations. The most effective force in Afghanistan under Russian occupation was the Spetznaz (Special forces) who operated like the enemy on their terms.

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WTF?

So who is making these decisions?

If the decisions are so bad - can you name and shame the people making them?

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Defence Procurement as a Game

The problem is that all through from the 50s to the early 80s, defence procurement was a game. No one _really_ thought that a war starting with either a pre-emptive nuclear strike by the Russians or the the 2nd Shock Army streaming through the Fulda Gap was really winnable, or even fightable in a meaningful sense, so the whole military-industrial complex turned into a game. Lots of money, but no real outcomes. Falklands proved the stupidity of that: we had a navy that couldn't defend itself against essentially third-world forces, so would be totally incapable against anyone serious, an airforce that could only engage in pointless raids over a long distance, raids that a proper carrier could have provided hour in and hour out, by dredging scrapyards and an Army that was woefully undermanned. But since then, it's not got any better. The Air Force continue to fight not even the last war but in fact the early parts of the second world war (hell, by 1943 the game was up for short-range interceptors), the Navy has a few sub-hunters for a submarine threat that doesn't exist and non-functional air defence pickets for a fleet that no longer exists and the poor bloody Infantry pick up the pieces.

Britain could use a large, conventional or nuclear carrier with a fleet of low-tech aircraft. INdeed, for present problems, the Ark Royal circa 1972 plus some old Buccaneers would be a seriously useful force. The air force should just be all loaded onto carriers, but if they can't manage that should stop pissing about in fast jets (to fight whom, exactly?) and see if they can buy some decent ground attack aircraft, while the Army should get some decent helicopters.

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jvs
WTF?

UK's dryland assets & deployments:

Cypress, Iraq, Kuwait, U.A.E., Saudi-Arabia, Afghanistan,

Plus biffing up Australia in case of an Indonesian onslaught.

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Go

Super Tucano?

The RAF already use the Short Tucano prop trainer to train fast jet pilots, as it has similar handling characteristics to the Jet Provost, the previous training aircraft.

Embraer now make the Super Tucano, a relatively cheap multi role aircraft that could be deployed more effectively in places like Afghanistan, where a squadron of fighters overhead allows much more time over target and repeat attacks by the same aircraft if necessary. Even the US has toyed with buying about 100 of them. If we wanted to pay through the nose then I suppose that Britain could make their own versions.

http://www.embraerdefensesystems.com.br/english/content/combat/tucano_origin.asp

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fast jets....

Isn't that what the yanks found out in 'Nam, carriers full of phantoms may look cool and are great fun to fly, but to support the grunts, it was aircraft like the OV-1 and OV-10 that enabled fast jets to fly in deliver a few bombs and then depart, but it was aircraft with an extended loiter time like the Douglas A-1 that could provide continuous cover, and with its lower airspeed had more time to select targets.

Sorry, fast jets as ground support – fail.

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Stop

Don't think the US is free from this sort of racket

While El Reg focuses on MoD's failures, there is an Airbus aircraft that would be better than an American offering that the Congress (due to political pressure from Boeing) is doing everything it can to prevent Northrop Grumman/EADS from winning -- the KC-45. Even NG/EADS' promise to build it (and the A-340) in Alabamastan hasn't helped the cause. You are not alone, UK, in defense acquisition boondoggles.

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Stop

Do not let facts get in the way

Actually the contract was reviewed and issues raised by the Government Accountability Office, (mostly a politically neutral body) because the Air Force was not following the RFP (changing the criteria used to judge the winning bid) and Boeing would sue and win.

But do not let reality get in the way.

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FAIL

hahahahahahah

politically neutral yes but civil servants auditing other civil servants' work- doh. Get an outside accounting firm and do it properly

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FAIL

Britain gives you wings...

Literally. Does anyone for one moment truly believe that the Airbus will leave the wing plants in the UK now that there is no British shareholder? Of course not, unless the government stumps up billions in incentives to keep a few beards in work, which is becoming increasingly hard to justify. Airbus owns the technology, they can do what they want with it. I always thought it was crackers to transport the wings by barge and big fuck off plane to the final assembly line. It's the equivalent of building a boat that will not go through the door of your shed. The wings should be built at the assembly site and in a few years time, they will be.

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Funny how i have heard this comment before..

I have heard this comment so many times since BAE even floated the idea of dropping out of the consortium, but guess what - nothings changed so far! The A350XWB is using the same production facilities, they havent pulled out of Britain for it (and that would have been the logical project to make the switch on).

There's a simple reason, the UK has specialists in the design and build of these components, if you want to design and build somewhere else, you have to build the manufacturing plants, train the workers and develop the experience, and that is just not cost effective to do. Things arent going to change - EADS is in the business of making money, there not going to do anything to hurt...

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Buying from America is not guaranteed to be cheeper

Dare I say it, the Joint Strike Fighter...

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Anonymous Coward

What about the tanks?

So if the A400M only has a maximum payload of ~30 tonnes how are we going to move our Challenger 2 MBTs to the various conflict zones around the world? at 60+ tonnes we will still need C17s so yet more wasted tax money. Or we could waste a few more million or billion and build a new 30 tonne tank just so it can be carried by our new planes.

Or maybe just maybe the A400M is to replace only the C130s with their maximum payload of ~20 tonnes where the A400M is an improvement, although i suspect the cost is not justifiable.

Now the real question is do we need a lighter class of plane or could we manage with only C17s and no C130 or A400M. There must be a reason the US operate both the C17 and the C130 though.

- Anon

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Alert

Mentioned in post AC 15:56

Bloody hard to parachute from a jet.

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Flame

We need the two types of plane, its important to understand the difference.

Originally in the 1960s when we last went through this debate, we picked the C130 (for whatever reason) to tactically move stuff (troops, ammo, light equiptment and even some of the lighter armour we had such APCs etc) around. This was also designed with the core capability of not requiring a runway much more than a dirt track 600-700 metres long and then being able to unload a relatively large amount of kit quickly, then take off again.

The large stuff was then going to go via the navy/commercial shipping. It will always be ridiculous to fly a challenger division out to a warzone. Even with C-17's, they can only take 1 tank each, it will take an age to fly the armour out one tank at a time, plus all the support staff, gear, REME support tanks etc. Not including the fact that we still then need a friendly airport waiting with unloading facilities for a fleet of 60+ ton MBT's.

This difference in role is important, C-17s are good at airlift, and yes they can lift at lot. However they're not going to be lifting tanks, so the weight limit on A400's is irrelevant. The increased capacity does make a difference, but then again, try and land a C-17 on a dirt track and you'll quickly have the answer as to why we need TACTICAL airlift, not just strategic.

And at the end of the day, why don't get just keep hiring the C-17s/Antonov's anyway? Seeing as Lewis is stating that £100m is purchase cost, plus £100m support (plus training and running the actual bases to keep these things in i imagine) It may well be cheaper to pay by the lift.

Maybe FedEx or UPS will start a military shipping service that would commercially challenge the airlift capabilities of the MOD? We do live in a capitalist country after all, free market and all that.....

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Boffin

Wasn't designed for tanks

The assumption made during the design phase was that tanks would either no longer be in service or at least not capable of playing a useful role by the time the A400M was in service. It *can* however carry attack helos, which are seen, effectively, as modern replacements for tanks.

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Oh no it isn't (it's panto season right?)

Not really, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sr6NpbeC4Cw

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Anonymous Coward

Actually

The C17 can drop paratroopers as could the C141 starlifter and both are turbo fans (C130 is a turbo proper aircraft...i.e. still a jet, just with external blades rather than internal). Check Jane's Aircraft if you want confirmation

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Re: Parachuting from a jet

@Anonymous Coward, 17:49: "Bloody hard to parachute from a jet."

Oh really? U.S. airborne troops never seemed to have much trouble parachuting from the C-141 Starlifter.

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FAIL

not at all...

you do realise that a) this is a freight plane, it isn't going to be doing Mach 2, and b) crew can parachute from jets - ever heard of ejector seats in fighter planes???

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RE: parachuting from a jet...

I believe this would be a C-17 conducting an airborne drop... perhaps a little harder for the pilot to keep it slow, but I don't believe the jumping out bit requires any more skill... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7HY4daITF4

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Alert

Mach 2

I was obviously under the misguided understanding that due to jet aircraft having a poor minimum airspeeds exiting one would be very dangerous given also poor fuel performance at relative low altitude leaves only maybe HALO which is performed by special forces not parachute troops.

As for fighter aircraft ejections good luck at ejecting at anything above 500 knots as it will hurt - yes 6 have done it above 800 knots (according to Martin Baker). READ ejection is not carried out as a normal part of pilot work it is used in an emergency and as such is the lesser of two evils.

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30 year wait - for an (air)bus!

I recall reading about what was then called FIMA (IIRC), basically the same plane, in 1985. ISD of 2015 - 30 years gestation.

Just as well it is only a bus with wings. How long for a flying Formula 1 car? Oh yeah, Typhoon....! 1979 first studies, 2009 deployed out of UK to Falklands. 30 years-ish again.

So, what will we need to do in 30 years. Erm..??

There's a great saying in Texas - 'either crap, or get off the pot'. Airbus/BAES/MoD must have numb arses. And only a modest amount of crap to show for all the effort.

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Anonymous Coward

Lewis Page by any chance?

Usual anti-RAF tosh from Lewis Page I see... He'll defend the navy spending until the end though...

As said by others here, before knocking this get the facts correct. The A400 and C17 have different roles, they are more than just a big tube with wings...

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Wrongo

Perhaps you've seen his screeds on the Type 45 destroyers or the useless carriers procured by the navy? Oh, sorry, your RAF bias blinds you to anything you don't want to see.

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And why has it desended to this state?

As the contributors above note, we (Britain!) had good technology and people. Why have many of our Engineers and Scientists gone and to were? Firstly, when Britain stopped developing interesting stuff, they "Brain Drained" to the USA. Then when we stopped building interesting stuff they went to America and Europe. We have niches (like motor racing) but seem destined to lose them as well if we're not careful.

Why did we stop developing and building? "Oh, our Engineers and Scientist were too exacting and made it too expensive and we were told by our allies not to compete..." and "Foreign Engineers are so much better at designing and building to cost than us....." If these ideas are the excuses used then our Civil servants, Accountants, Bankers and "City" leaders have a great deal to answer for as nether of the sentiments reflect the truth completely or accurately and do a disgraceful dis-service.

No one in the Political class seems keen to attack and cast out these incompetent wretches because they do not consider it is in their interests to do so. The author is a notable and cogent critic but he has only a little voice, regrettably. Would that others would do a service to British forces, subjects and taxpayers by amplifying his voice.

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Boffin

re: Unique Feature

"...it has been rigged with explosives capable of blasting an escape route open for the crew in the event of disaster. This would of course wreck the plane, but the test pilot - a former RAF Hercules driver, as it happens - and his colleagues would be in the clear."

Someone better go and make sure it blasts a big enough hole for the crews to crawl out of. Freeman Dyson is the man you want to ask about this. Dyson wrote about the Lancaster's too-small escape hatches, and its effect on aircrew survival in his book "Disturbing the Universe". He attempted (mostly in vain) to have the hatches modified during WWII.

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FAIL

I know what's wrong.......

The muppet machine thinks its a sub boat judging by the props. Cost overuns in building the turboprops have mashed the price. The Russians make very good turboprosp (have done for years) why didn't we just licence them in. Quoted lift now 29 Tonnes due to being 12 Tonnes too fat. The Yanks must be laughing their cocks off.

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Terminator

er, no

It just shows that we need to drop Europe like a hot, unelected and heavily radioactive rock.

As for dropping men from a C-17, you can do it and it works nicely but what you can't do is hedge-hop drop. This is something that certain RAF pilots are particularly skilled at (being batshit insane also helps) and some of the Kuwait (yeah, right) drops were barely over 60ft at night under hostile fire. Crap meself? You could say so.

AC because.... hey look man, I just carried a radio....

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c130...

So long as the standard pallets fit, just re-engine the existing airframe - or incrementally update the structure.

Aircraft design is variations on saussage lengths, wing positions and sizes - why do anything more complicated unless there's a *seriously* compelling design reason to change. We have built (civilian/airlift) aircraft the same way since the DC3 (if not before)..what's the point in changing.

maybe open source flight control software.....

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More Europe!

This shows we need a more integrated Europe where national politics play far less of a role. Away with the various national defense industries and work on a real European scale. For that matter, away with the national military as well. The Yanks enjoy massive advantages because of the scale they work at while the European countries are merely small fry.

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Antonov

I would have thought it would have been much simpler to have bought a few Antonov 124 with their 170 ion load carrying capacity.

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Joke

Not that big

170 ions is not terribly big, even for atoms high on the atomic scale.

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C-17 Tactical Airlift

The C-17 can do tactical airlift, the RAF pilots just miss out that part of the syllabus in the states as it wasn't part of the rental contract, that's why it can taxi backwards under its own power. It can't go everywhere a C-130 can so you have to have them too, but then the A400 probably can't either, still as we'll be operating all three that shouldn't be a problem, we'll be able to pick exactly the right airlifter for any situation....

As for flying tanks about, generally it's better to send them by sea unless you need them really urgently.

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Silver badge

@And why has it desended to this state?

Think of it in IT terms.

Imagine a single company building an OS, by improving on its previous design, adding new features etc = works

Now imagine one built by a bunch of amateurs just turning up and working on the bits that interest them also works.

Now imagine writing an OS where the same proportion of lines of code, screen pixels and features have to be written by each country. There is no cost limit and every year 1/3 of the suppliers and customer requirements change as a new party is elected in 1/3 of the countries.

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Bronze badge

The prospect of being hanged...

...concentrates the mind wonderfully.

How many of the wonderful weapons of the past century only came into existence because the engineers, managers, and politicians knew how bad it would be if they didn't get them into service?

And it's maybe easy to forget all the different types of American transport which were not a huge success. The C-130 and the C-17 are the pick of the crop. There were planes designed in the 1950s we don't remember, not just American. (The Beverley and the Argosy come to mind from British sources, and the Belfast just scrapes in as a 1950s design.)

One advantage the Americans have had is that their country is big enough for people to want long-range air transport. That's why the DC-3 was there to be turned into the C-47.

Anyway, the A400M doesn't seem all that much better than the C-141

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Happy

@Paul_Murphy

" it wasn't until the USA pulled the 'it will all be done by missiles' line that the government of the day decided to kill off the British aviation industry."

The day being the mid to late 1950s. The minister (Conservative BTW) was Duncan Sandys. He had comanded an anti-aircraft rocket unit in WWII (solid fuelled, dumb) and seemed to think they were the ultimate.

I've not read anywhere he was much influenced by the US position, which AFAIK showed no cancellations of major (or minor) projects in this time. this was the era of the XB70 to bomb Moscow @ Mach 3, the B58 Hustler (same job at M2), the U2 and the SR71 (and would have been the Avro 730, which the Skyon spaceplane resembles to a surprising degree).

Instead of which ol Sandys (also know for the "Headless man" sex scandal, and reputed to have a problem in the keeping it in his pants dept) kneecapped the whole UK aerospace industry. An act so savage that it would seem only a huge bung from the Kremlin (or Lockheed perhaps, who as it turned out had form for this sort of thing) to think it was a brilliant idea.

The last time I looked the Hercules was on its -j variant (and that was a while ago).

The bottom line.

Can a C17 land at kabul airport. That would seem to be about as bad as it can get.

Would the increaased load be *used* to carry anything or is the A400 right sized for the number of trips (1?) it would be expected to fly.

What are those workers skilled *at* exactly? Can they be transferred to civilian planes or are they *only* capable of military work (on government time scales at government costs).

What does UK PLC get for their money by retaining those jobs. Is it design skills or just warm body stuff so the government does not have to preside over another block of redundancies?

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Unhappy

So Lewis...

just how much does the Pentagon pay you to write these "buy 'merkin" articles. Will you not be happy until you have done more to argue the case for the destruction of British high tech industry than Maggie Thatcher?

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