Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Something new in the skies over Okęcie

Yesterday evening I heard an aircraft noise that was unusual enough to make me look out of the window. "A C-17 Globemaster III coming into land", I said to myself, and alerted the Okęcie spotter community via Lotnictwo.net.pl. Soon afterward, I was corrected by a better informed forum member, who wrote that the plane I saw (shoulder-mounted swept wings, T-tail, portly grey fuselage) was not a C-17, but a somewhat smaller Airbus A400M Atlas, operated by the Royal Air Force, call sign ASCOT 45. Furthermore, another informed source said that the same plane would be taking off from Okęcie today at 11:10.

As it happened, I had a meeting at Poleczki Business Park this morning that finished at half past ten, so I strolled over to the airport. The wind was in the right direction for air traffic to be taking off from Runway 29, with a convenient spotting point on ul. Wirażowa. I got there a few minutes before eleven to find a crowd of spotters, equipped with long lenses and full-frame bodies ready to snap the plane.

With British punctuality, the RAF Atlas made its appearance at 11:13 (after appearing around the corner from the military stand).

So - here are some snaps of the beast as it taxis to the runway. Below: the eight-bladed props make a strong impression, like scimitars slicing the air. Behind the A400M, a Bombardier Q400 twin turboprop, with a mere six blades per engine.

Below: it does look unusual; the planform of a C-5 Galaxy or C-17 Globemaster III - and propellers. Turboprops do give give a good range/speed trade-off; just look at the Tupolev Tu-20 Bear still in service and able to reach California from bases in Russia.

Bigger than the sixty year-old Lockheed Hercules design which it will replace in RAF service for tactical airlift duties, the A400M can transport over 110 paratroops distances of over 4,000 miles / 6,000km. It has short-field, unpaved runway capability.

The production delay and cost overrun of this European project has become legendary. (Worth seeing what Baron Gilbert had to say about it in the House of Lords.) But still, here it is. The RAF has ordered 22 of these. With such a fleet, the British military will be able to fly three battalions of troops to any bit of NATO that Russia might be looking to invade.

The A400M lifts off, heading for Oslo. It gets aloft quickly for a plane of its portliness.

Summer is the time for plane spotting round these parts - shame that 95% of what flies in and out of Okęcie is plain vanilla - Airbus A320s, Boeing 737s and Embraer ERJs. Still, when something good like this happens - like seeing a new type with my own eyes for the first time - the excitement is worth the wait.

This time last year:
How the other half lives - a Radomite's tale

This time two years ago:
On guard against complacency

This time three years ago:
Ready but not open - footbridge over Puławska

This time four years ago:
Dusk along the Vistula

This time five years ago:
Mediterranean Kraków

This time six years ago:
Around Wisełka, Most Łazienkowski, Wilanowska by night

This time seven years ago:
Summer storms

This time eight years ago:
Golden time of day

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