Airbus Achieves Fully Automatic Refuelling Contacts

Airbus has achieved the first ever fully automatic
air-to-air refuelling (A3R) operation with a boom system.

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.

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.


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.

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.

The goal for the A3R system is to
develop technologies that will reach fully autonomous
capabilities.

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