Military Aviation

Video Shows Airbus A330 MRTT Aircraft completing world’s first ever fully automatic refuelling contact

This milestone is part of the industrialisation phase of automatic air-to-air refuelling systems ahead of its implementation in the A330 MRTT tanker development. 

Airbus has unveiled on Apr. 17, 2020 that has achieved the first ever fully automatic air-to-air refuelling (A3R) operation with a boom system. As shown by the video in this post, the flight test campaign, conducted earlier in the year over the Atlantic Ocean, involved an Airbus tanker test aircraft equipped with the Airbus A3R solution, with an F-16 fighter aircraft of the Portuguese Air Force acting as a receiver. 

According to the company news release, this milestone is part of the industrialisation phase of A3R systems ahead of its implementation in the A330 MRTT tanker development. 

The campaign achieved a total of 45 flight test hours and 120 dry contacts with the A3R system, covering the whole aerial refuelling envelope, as the F-16 and MRTT consolidate the maturity and capabilities of the development at this stage. The certification phase will start in 2021.

Didier Plantecoste, Airbus Head of Tanker and Derivatives Programmes, said: “The achievement of this key milestone for the A3R programme highlights the A330 MRTT’s excellent capability roadmap development and once more confirms that our tanker is the world’s reference for present and future refuelling operations. Our special thanks go to the Portuguese Air Force for their continued support and help on this crucial development”.

The A3R system requires no additional equipment on the receiver aircraft and is intended to reduce air refuelling operator (ARO) workload, improve safety and optimise the rate of air-to-air refuelling transfer in operational conditions, helping maximise aerial superiority. The goal for the A3R system is to develop technologies that will reach fully autonomous capabilities.

Once the system is activated by the ARO, the A3R flies the boom automatically and keeps the alignment between the boom tip and the receiver receptacle with an accuracy of a couple of centimeters; the proper alignment and the receiver stability is checked in real-time to keep a safe distance between the boom and the receiver and also to determine the optimum moment to extend the telescopic beam to achieve the connection with the receiver. At this point, the fuel transfer is initiated to fill up the receiver aircraft and once completed and the disconnection is commanded, the boom is cleared away from the receiver by retracting the telescopic beam and flying the boom away to keep a safe separation distance. During this process, the ARO simply monitors the operation.

Photo credit: Airbus

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

Recent Posts

Legendary F-14 pilot Joe “Hoser” Satrapa tells the story of the gun kill on an F-15 that almost sold Tomcats to Japan

Joe “Hoser” Satrapa No dissertation on present-day section tactics, or on naval aviation in general,… Read More

18 hours ago

Marine Infantry Rifleman tells why (except the VH-60 White Hawks flown by HMX-1) the USMC doesn’t use the Black Hawk Multirole Helicopter

The Black Hawk Multirole Helicopter The Black Hawk is the military's most versatile helicopter, suited… Read More

18 hours ago

USAF reveals AGM-183A ARRW with live warhead in Guam during hypersonic weapon training

AGM-183A ARRW with live warhead in Guam Andersen Air Force Base (AFB) on Feb. 27,… Read More

2 days ago

Operation Tamouré: the only time a French Air Force Mirage IV strategic bomber dropped a live nuclear bomb

The Mirage IV The Suez crisis in October 1956 prompted France to look into setting… Read More

2 days ago

Video features former Viggen pilot explaining how JA-37 fighter jocks could achieve radar lock on SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3 spy planes

JA-37 Viggen fighter jocks achieving radar lock on SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3 spy planes The… Read More

3 days ago