Airbus A-330 MRTT is the first certified automatic aerial refueling aircraft - Military District
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Airbus A-330 MRTT is the first certified automatic aerial refueling aircraft – Military District

Air-to-air refueling is in itself a delicate exercise…and it is even more so when the commander of the fighter-bomber to be refueled has fatigue and nervous tension during a long mission. Hence, Airbus aspires to automate this procedure through the A3R project [pour Automatic Air-to-Air Refueling].

The first tests of this automated in-flight refueling system took place in 2017, using the A-310 MRTT and with the assistance of the Portuguese Air Force. Thus, 120 dry contacts were made as part of this campaign. which was already the first of its kind in the world.

The aircraft to be refueled does not need to be modified with such a system. “Innovative passive technologies such as image processing are used to determine the position of the refueling vessel in the receiver and when the robotic system is activated, the fully automated flight control system guides the boom. [la perche, ndlr] Towards the bowl’ receiver, Airbus had already clarified at the time.

A year later, new tests were conducted – without fuel transfer – involving the A-310 MRTT equipped with the A3R system and the KC-30A from the Royal Australian Air Force. [RAAF] It was just as crucial.

Then, in 2020, Airbus announced that it had successfully completed the “first-ever fully automatic aerodynamic refueling” with a Portuguese F-16. This prompted it to continue its work under the A-330 SMART MRTT program, with the support of the Singapore Ministry of Defense, which supplied the European industrialist in particular with F-16D fighter-bombers.

During a new test campaign, 88 dry and wet contacts were carried out as well as the transfer of 30 tons of fuel in automatic mode. The data collected made it possible to complete the development of the A3R system. All that remains is to obtain certification of the A330 MRTT equipped with such a device. What has just been done.

“The A330 MRTT has become the world’s first tanker aircraft to be certified for automatic daylight refueling operations after a successful campaign jointly with the Air Force of the Republic of Singapore. [RSAF] Airbus announced on July 19. Accredited by the Spanish National Institute of Aerospace Technology [INTA]This capacity is part of the new SMART MRTT, the industrialist confirmed.

“The A330 MRTT continues to increase its technological advantage with its superior in-flight refueling capabilities,” said Jean-Brice Dumont, Head of Military Aviation Systems at Airbus Defense and Space. “Automation improves safety, redundancy and flexibility for operations that are now time-consuming for aerial refueling, and it reduces the workload of the boom operator who has to remain focused for an extended period of time,” he commented.

However, Airbus wants to go even further, as the A3R’s capability is only a first step towards fully autonomous in-flight refueling. Thus, the manufacturer launched A4R projects [Autonomous Assets Air-to-Air Refuelling]AF2 [Autonomous Formation Flight] and Auto’Mate, the latter focusing on “automating the tasks of receiving aircraft”. It is clear that such technologies are likely to pave the way for in-flight refueling of drones.

“These technology modules will be tested in flight during 2023 with a final comprehensive presentation scheduled for mid-2024,” Airbus announced, specifying that these tests will be conducted with A310 MRTT and DT-25 target drones as a receiver. Planes.


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