A nation's military does more than defend sovereignty. Most also act as first responders, delivering humanitarian aide to disaster victims. But, as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated in the US, getting supplies into areas affected by natural disasters (or even forward operating bases) is far easier said than done. That's why a collaboration of European nations have spent more than a decade developing a heavy transport plane fit for the 21st century, the Airbus A400M Atlas.
The A400M Atlas is a four-engine turboprop transport aircraft designed by Airbus as a tactical airlift platform. It measures 148 feet long and 48 feet tall with a 139-foot wingspan, putting it squarely between the C-130 and the C-17 in terms of size and speed (but still way smaller than the Antonov An-225). A quartet of 11,000 HP Europrop TP400-D6 turboprop engines and four 8-bladed 17 foot-diameter "scimitar" props grant the plane a 485 MPH cruising speed, a service ceiling of more than 37,000 feet and a range of 1,781 to 3,450 nmi, depending on the load. That's over 100 MPH faster and 1,000 miles farther than the C-130 Hercules. Plus, the Atlas' beefy power plant, combined with its reinforced landing gear and lightweight carbon fibre reinforced plastic wings and rotors, allows it to take off from short, unpaved runways in as little as 3,215 feet (980 meters).