An Airbus Military A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), one of five on order for the RAAF as the KC-30A, suffered the partial loss of its air-to-air refuelling boom over the Atlantic Ocean on January 19.
The incident happened while the first of five KC-30As bound for the RAAF – and the first A330 MRTT development aircraft – was conducting a refuelling currency mission with Portuguese air force F-16s. Sources say preliminary reports suggest the boom’s probe snapped off near the F-16’s receptacle, causing the boom to spring up and strike the underside of the KC-30, possibly snapping off one of its two guiding fins and causing it to oscillate wildly until it snapped off at the pivot point.
The boom departed the aircraft and fell to the ocean below. Fortunately, both the tanker and the F-16 recovered safely to their respective bases with no injuries to the crews of either aircraft.
Damage to both aircraft is currently being assessed, while investigations by Airbus Military and Portuguese air force officials have begun. RAAF Directorate of Defence Aviation and Air Force Safety (DDAAFS) officials are already on their way to Madrid to join in the investigation.
A Department of Defence release issued late on the evening of January 20 states “The aircraft was being operated by Airbus Military Corporation. No Australian personnel were onboard the MRTT at the time of the incident.”
It is too early to tell whether the incident will have a further impact on the KC-30’s delivery schedule, although Airbus Military has told media that the incident should not affect the handover of the first two KC-30s to the RAAF, which had been scheduled for late December. The first KC-30 had been due to enter a period of maintenance before delivery to the RAAF, while it was the second and third KC-30 airframes which were due to be the first handed over to the RAAF.
RAAF deliveries are currently running more than two years behind schedule due to development delays with the boom, and issues in writing the aircraft’s comprehensive technical publications. The RAAF is understood to be willing to take delivery of the first two aircraft without an operational boom, as the aircraft’s substantial airlift and wing-mounted hose and drogue refuelling pod capabilities are more urgently required, and with the retirement of the F-111, the RAAF won’t operate a boom refuelled aircraft until its first F-35 JSFs are delivered.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also ordered MRTTs in a similar configuration, while Airbus parent EADS is bidding the aircraft for the USAF’s KC-X tanker program.