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Airbus performs world’s first automatic air-to-air refuelling contact with large aircraft receiver

Staff Writer |
Airbus Defence and Space has followed its earlier achievement in demonstrating Automatic Air-to-Air (A3R) refuelling of a fighter with another world-first – the same operation performed with a large receiver aircraft.

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In a joint operation with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which is collaborating with Airbus in development of this pioneering technology, Airbus’ A310 company development tanker performed seven automatic contacts with a RAAF KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport, also made by Airbus.

The system requires no additional equipment on the receiver and is intended to reduce refuelling boom operator workload, improve safety, and optimise the rate of air-to-air refuelling (AAR) in operational conditions to maximise aerial superiority.

Airbus has begun work towards introducing the system on the current production A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (A330 MRTT).

During initial approach of the receiver, boom control is performed by the tanker’s Air Refuelling Operator (ARO) as usual.

Innovative passive techniques such as image processing are then used to determine the receiver’s refuelling receptacle position and when the automated 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 in a range of ways including: manually by the ARO; a relative distance-keeping mode; or full auto-mode to perform the contact.

In the 20 June flight off the southern Spanish coast, the A310 tanker performed the scheduled seven contacts over a two-hour test period.

The trial was conducted in conjunction with Test Pilots and Flight Test Engineers from the RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU).


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