The Nord Noratlas & Transall C-160

v1.0.0 / 01 nov 02 / / public domain

* Although cargolifter aircraft don't have the glamour of fighters and bombers, they are still an important element in military operations, and have interesting features and history of their own. Two of the more important European cargolifter aircraft of the postwar period are the piston-powered French Nord "Noratlas"; and its successor, the turboprop-powered Franco-German Transall "C-160". This document provides a short history of the Noratlas and the C-160.

[2] TRANSALL C-160


* In the late 1940s, the French SNCA du Nord company began work on a cargolifter to replace the Douglas C-47s and Junkers Ju-52s then in French service. The company came up with a design, the "Nord 2500", with dual piston engines and the twin-boom arrangement of the American Fairchild C-82 Packet cargolifter. The N-2500 was powered by two SNECMA-built Gnome-Rhone 14R radial engines with 1,600 horsepower each, and first flew on 10 September 1949.

The Nord 2500 prototype left something to be desired, and led to the improved "Nord 2501", powered by two SNECMA-built Bristol Hercules 738 or 758 radials with 2,040 horsepower each. The Nord 2501 first flew on 10 September 1949. It proved more satisfactory and the French air force, the Armee de l'Air (AdA), ordered three pre-production examples of the type, with the first performing its initial flight on 10 September 1952.

The AdA followed up with an order for an initial production batch of 40 N-2501s, with the last of the batch delivered at the end of June 1954. The AdA ordered further batches, ultimately obtaining a total of 200 N-2501s.

The Noratlas flew with a flight crew of four or five, and could carry 45 troops; 31 paratroops with drop gear; 18 stretchers with medical attendants; or 6,800 kilograms (14,900 pounds) of cargo. The AdA N-2501s saw combat service in Algeria, and during the Suez conflict of 1956. A few remained in AdA service into the 1970s.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                32.5 meters         106 feet 8 inches
   length                  22 meters           72 feet 1 inch
   height                  6 meters            19 feet 8 inches

   empty weight            13,300 kilograms    28,670 pounds
   max loaded weight       22,000 kilograms    48,500 pounds

   max cruise speed        335 KPH             208 MPH / 181 KT
   service ceiling         7,500 meters        24,600 feet
   range                   2,500 kilometers    1,550 MI / 1,350 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

* The West German Luftwaffe also adopted the Noratlas, beginning operations with the type in 1958. 25 were assembled in Germany from kits supplied by Nord, and 161 more were built by Flugzeugbau Nord, a satellite firm set up in Germany by Nord specifically to build the Noratlas. These aircraft were designated "N-2501D".

The Israelis bought 30 "N-2501IS" machines, generally similar to the standard N-2501. The Israelis were forced to buy their first batch of three Noratlas transports as a condition of a sale of twelve Dassault Ouragan fighters. The Israelis were unhappy at first about being forced to buy the transports, but came to appreciate their usefulness.

The Noratlas served Israel in the Suez conflict in 1956, the Six-Day War in 1967, and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. They were used not only for cargo transport and paratroop drop, but for maritime patrol. The Israeli machines were finally retired in 1978.

Portugal also bought 12 N-2501s. Used French and German aircraft were bought by Niger (4), Nigeria (6), Chad (10), and Greece (40). Some N-2501s remained in civilian service into the 1990s.

* Some other variants of the Noratlas were proposed or built in small numbers:

The "N-2505", N-2507", "N-2509", and "N-2510" were paper projects only, and never flew. Total Noratlas production came to 425.


[2] TRANSALL C-160

* The Nord Noratlas was a fine and useful aircraft, but of course there came a time when its users wanted something better as a replacement. In January 1959, this desire resulted in the formation of the "Transporter Allianz (Transall)", which was a joint group formed of Aerospatiale of France, along with Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Bohm (MBB) and VFW-Fokker of Germany. There was an attempt to get the Italians involved, but they didn't join up.

The result of this alliance was the "Transall C-160" transport, with three prototypes built, one by each manufacturer in the group. The first prototype flew on 25 February 1963. This led to six preproduction "C-160A" machines, with initial flight in 1965, these aircraft featuring a fuselage stretch of 51 centimeters (20 inches) relative to the three prototypes. Three of the C-160As were evaluated by the AdA, while the other three were evaluated by the Luftwaffe.

Similar production machines followed, beginning in 1967. The C-160 was one of the first successful multinational European aircraft development programs.

* The C-160 is a neat, competently designed transport of conventional modern cargolifter configuration. It is a twin-engine aircraft, fitted with license-built Rolls-Royce Tyne Mark 22 turboprops providing 6,100 effective horsepower each, driving four-bladed paddle-style propellers 5.49 meters (18 feet) in diameter, on a high-mounted straight wing. Cargo is handled through a hydraulically-operated loading ramp under a high-mounted tail, and there are two passenger-loading doors with built-in steps on the left side of the fuselage.

The C-160 is fitted with tricycle landing gear, with the 2-by-2-wheel main gear assemblies retracting into sponsons alongside the fuselage, leaving the interior cargo area unobstructed. The landing gear is designed for operation from rough airstrips, and its height can be adjusted on the ground to ease cargo loading. Double slotted flaps were fitted to the wing for short-takeoff capability, while spoilers mounted on top of the wing and reversible propeller operation helped reduce landing roll. There was also provision for attaching a booster turbojet with thrust reverser under each wing, but it does not appear that this option was ever implemented.

   TRANSALL C-160:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                40 meters           131 feet 3 inches
   length                  32.40 meters        106 feet 4 inches
   height                  11.65 meters        38 feet 3 inches

   empty weight            29,000 kilograms    19,975 pounds
   MTO weight              51,000 kilograms    112,435 pounds

   max speed               513 KPH             319 MPH / 277 KT 
   service ceiling         8,230 meters        27,000 feet
   range                   1,850 KM            1,150 MI / 1,000 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

The C-160 has a crew of four and can carry 93 troops, all in pressurized accommodations; or 81 fully equipped paratroops; or 62 litters with four medical attendants; or a maximum of 16,000 kilograms (35,275 pounds) of cargo. The cargo bay features a winch and a roller system, and floor has tie-down attachments for securing the cargo.

* Initial production of the C-160 consisted of 110 "C-160Ds" for the West German Luftwaffe; 50 "C-160Fs" for the French AdA; and 9 "C-160Zs" for South Africa. Four of the French C-160Fs were later converted for operation as mail carriers for Air France, and redesignated "C-160P". 20 of the German C-160Ds were passed on to Turkey as "C-160Ts".

The last of initial C-160 production was completed in 1972, but in 1977 production was reinstated of an improved version, the "C-160 Nouvelle Generation (NG / New Generation)" for France. These machines featured modestly improved avionics, though the AdA insisted that the cockpit layout be compatible with older C-160s; an additional fuel tank in the center section of each wing, doubling the range; reinforced wings to handle the greater weight of fuel; deletion of the forward passenger door, which was not generally used; and (for at least the last ten aircraft) a fixed inflight-refueling probe. All the C-160NGs had a slightly but distinctly extended nose for new radar.

Initial flight of the first C-160NG was on 9 April 1981. A total of 25 were initially ordered. Of these, ten were configured as inflight refueling tankers with hose-and-drogue gear in the left sponson, with five more having provisions for such gear.

Four more C-160NGs were ordered, for a total of 29, with these machines configured with the Rockwell Collins "Take Command And Move Out (TACAMO)" VLF radio system, the same as that used on the US Navy's Boeing E-6A TACAMO platform. The radio system is intended for communications with submerged ballistic missile submarines through a pair of long wire antennas weighted to hang down from the aircraft while it flies in slow circles.

These C-160s were designated the "C-160H Avion Station Relais de Transmissions Exceptionales (ASTARTE). They featured the refueling probe and, interestingly, the hose-and-drogue tanker kit. Initial delivery of this subvariant was in 1987, with introduction to service in 1988.

Two C-160NGs were also converted to the "C-160G Gabriel" signals intelligence (SIGINT) and jamming configuration to replace the older Noratlas N.2501 Gabriel platforms. The C-160Gs are littered with antennas and antenna fairings, including wingtip pods for a "electronic support measures (emitter locator)" system; a "farm" of five blade antennas on top of the forward fuselage; a retractable dome under the forward fuselage; and a blister on each side of the rear fuselage. As with the C-160H Astarte, the two C-160Gs are configured with both refueling probe and hose kit. The C-160Gs saw service in the Gulf War in 1991.

* Transall also proposed conversion kits to create several other variants of the C-160 that were never built:

* In the late 1990s, all 66 C-160 transport variants surviving in AdA service were given an avionics update, including a GPS-INS navigation system, a head-up display, and other kit, and redesignated "C-160R", where the "R" stood for "Renove / Renovated". 22 C-160Rs were then upgraded with a self-defense suite including a radar-warning receiver, missile warning system, and chaff-flare dispensers. The ASTARTE and Gabriel special mission-aircraft were given the same sets of upgrades under a separate program.

Despite the investment in upgrades, all the French C-160s have been heavily tasked and are nearing the end of their service lives. They are being supplemented by Airtech CN-234 twin-turboprop cargolifters, but the CN-235 is substantially smaller than the C-160, being nicknamed the "Transallito" in AdA service, and cannot be a full replacement.

The ideal replacement would be the EADS A-400M, but given the international wrangling over the A-400M, the AdA may have to make do with the all-but-universal Lockheed Martin C-130. The AdA already operates a number of different C-130 variants, and new ones would not be a major adjustment.

A number of German C-160s remain in operation, the Luftwaffe fleet having undergone a service-life extension program in the early 1990s. The Luftwaffe is considering the A400M as a replacement. The Turks were still operating their C-160s at last notice, but the South African machines were retired.



* An acquaintance once told me that the Noratlas was a "bizarre" machine, but I find it has a comfortable appearance. I used to see the similar Fairchild C-119 Boxcar flying around my hometown very often when I was little, and the Noratlas brings back fond memories.

* Sources include:

* Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 nov 02 / gvg