Airbus completes A330 MRTT automated tanking trial

Avatar for Chris ThatcherBy Chris Thatcher | May 25, 2021

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 10 seconds.

Airbus has completed the trial of an automated aerial refuelling system, the company reported on May 20.

The test was conducted earlier this spring between an A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) tanker fitted with Airbus’s fully automated aerial refuelling system, called A3R, and aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

The trials in early 2021 marked participation of an A3R-equipped RSAF A330 MRTT acting as tanker, and several receivers from the RSAF, including another A330 MRTT and fighter aircraft like the F-16 and F-15SG. MINDEF Photo

Airbus has been developing a way to reduce operator workload, improve safety and transfer fuel faster and more effectively through “push of a button” system for a number of years under SMART MRTT, a program to introduce advanced technological solutions such as enhanced maintenance on the multi-role aircraft.

The company first unveiled the A3R concept in 2018 and later that year conducted seven automatic contacts between an Airbus A310 development tanker and a Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft.

That was followed in 2020 by a demonstration of a fully automatic refuelling operation with a boom system involving an Airbus A310 tanker testbed aircraft and an F-16 fighter jet from the Portuguese Air Force acting as a receiver.

The recent trial with the RSAF and Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency was the first participation of an A3R-equipped RSAF A330 MRTT and several receiving aircraft, including a second A330 MRTT and F-16 and F-15 fighter jets. In total, the aircraft completed 88 fully automated dry and wet contacts and transferred nearly 30 tonnes of fuel.

“We had the opportunity to test our system with different receiver types ensuring the right fit of our systems, while gathering extensive data key to completing the A3R development,” said Luis Miguel Hernández, Airbus SMART MRTT manager. “The team were able to test the limits of the system successfully, verifying its robustness and ability to automatically track receivers with varying configurations.” 

With the development phase complete, the company is now gearing up for “readiness of the final A3R version and preparation for a very demanding roadmap that will lead to certification by the end of 2021,” the company said in a press release.

The Airbus A330 MRTT is the only qualified bidder at present to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris. The aircraft was selected in April following an invitation to qualify (ITQ) request by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) for the Strategic Tanker Transport Capability (STTC) project. 

Two RSAF A330 MRTTs during trials in Singapore. MINDEF Photo

PSPC received two responses to the ITQ but would only name the successful respondent. Boeing, however, confirmed its submission, the KC-46 Pegasus, a militarized variant of the 767 widebody, had failed to qualify.

The RCAF is seeking a multi-role platform that can be configured for air-to-air refueling, personnel airlift, strategic government transport, aeromedical evacuations, and freight movement, among other roles. The aircraft may also be used to support disaster relief, search-and-rescue, and contributions to peace operations; it must also include the capacity to detect, avoid, and defeat air-to-air and surface-to-air threats. In its tanker role, the aircraft must be able to refuel allied fighter jets on NATO and NORAD operations. 

The current fleet of CC-150s, a modified variant of the Airbus A310-300, were acquired in 1992 from Canadian Airlines, and two were converted to tankers in 2008. The fleet is operated by 437 Transport Squadron at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario.  

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