The Transall Turns 60
On January 22, 1963, French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signed the Elysée Treaty, a bilateral agreement establishing close ties between the two countries in the areas of security, diplomacy, and education.
On February 25, 1963, the prototype of the C160 Transall (TRANSport ALLiance), a military cargo aircraft resulting from French-German cooperation, made its first flight at Melun-Villaroche.
Both of these anniversaries deserve to be celebrated for their significance in highlighting how aviation, and space technology, have been major instruments in the construction of a united Europe, and for recognizing the fruitful cooperation between France and Germany as one of the seeds of Airbus’s creation and success.
The Franco-German Military Cargo Plane and Its Legacy
The Transall project began in 1957 when Nord-Aviation proposed a cargo aircraft to replace the ageing Noratlas for the French Air Force. As French needs alone were not sufficient to ensure the program’s viability, a partner had to be found, and Germany became interested in the project. On December 15, 1958, three aircraft manufacturers were selected to study and produce the aircraft: Nord-Aviation on the French side, and Weser Flugzeugbau (VFW) and Hamburger Flugzeugbau (HFB) on the German side.
In 1959, the aircraft’s design was defined, starting with the choice of Rolls Royce Tyne engines. On December 16, 1959, an intergovernmental agreement launched the program, and production was split between the three cooperating countries’ factories. Assembly lines were established in Bourges, Bremen, and Hamburg.
Finally, on November 22, 1967, the first C160 was delivered to the French Air Force, followed by its German counterpart in April 1968. Production continued until 1973, resulting in a total of 169 aircraft, including three prototypes, six pre-production models, and 160 serial aircraft, 50 for the French Air Force and 110 for the Luftwaffe.
In addition to the standard version, two variants were added: one for South Africa (Z) and another for the French postal service (P). Other planned developments never materialised, such as the C161, equipped with an elevated cockpit and front access to the cargo hold, a twin-engine (C161J Jet), and even a quad-engine Transall.
However, the Transall NG (New Generation) announced by Aerospatiale, MBB, and VFW on May 7, 1976, did come to fruition. The aircraft was equipped with modern avionics and an in-flight refuelling boom. This time, a single assembly line was established in Toulouse, as only France ordered 25 units. The C160 NG made its first flight on April 9, 1981, and deliveries began in 1982.
The Transall’s silhouette is well-known to the public for having been featured on the news many times. Robust and reliable, the Transall has been involved in all military and humanitarian operations from the 1970s to 2020.
The Transall’s operational history in France and Germany concluded in two stages. The Luftwaffe bid farewell to it on October 11, 2021, and on April 3, 2022, the last flight of a C160 under French colours took place. The aircraft, registered as 212, joined the Aeroscopia Museum in Blagnac, not far from the factory where it was born. In 2023 two C160s remain in service with the Turkish Air Force.