Airbus Defence and Space has successfully demonstrated Automatic Air-to-Air Refuelling using its A310 tanker / transport defense aircraft for the first time with a large aircraft.
Airbus first demonstrated Automatic Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) with a F-16 fighter jet from the Portuguese Air Force in May 2017. Now the company has performed the same operation with a large receiver aircraft, a KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport, also made by Airbus.
The refueling operations were conducted during a two-hour test flight in June 2018 off the southern coast of Spain with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), as part of a joint project to develop the technology. The A310 development tanker performed seven automatic contacts with a RAAF.
According to Airbus, the system requires no additional equipment on the receiver and reduces refueling boom operator workload, improve safety, and optimize the rate of AAR in operational conditions.
During initial approach of the receiver, boom control is performed by the tanker’s Air Refueling Operator (ARO) as usual. Image processing is used to determine the receiver’s refueling receptacle position and when the system is activated, a fully automated flight control system flies and maintains the boom aligned with the receiver’s receptacle.
The telescopic beam inside the boom can be controlled manually by the ARO, in a relative distance-keeping mode or in a fully automatic mode.
The A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft for the defence sector is able to carry up to 111 tonnes (245,000 lb) of fuel.
David Piatti, who acted as Airbus Test ARO, or “boomer”, on the A310, said, “It was extremely impressive to see how accurately the A3R system tracks the receiver. It can be very useful to be able to refuel another tanker or transport, for example to extend its deployment range or to avoid taking fuel back to base, but it is also a challenging operation and this system has the potential to reduce workload and the risk involved.”
The trial was conducted in conjunction with Test Pilots and Flight Test Engineers from the RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU).
Squadron Leader Lawry Benier, executive officer for ARDU, said the work would increase the utility of the KC-30A within a battlespace. He said, “It’s very encouraging to come to Spain and see the progress that’s been made with AAR, and be able to witness firsthand the refueling of our KC-30A,” Squadron Leader Benier said.
“Refueling large receivers is a role RAAF has conducted extensively on operations and exercises, allowing us to extend the reach and responsiveness of our air mobility fleet, as well as keep surveillance aircraft in the air for longer.”