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Airbus demonstrates automatic air-to-air refuelling

written by australianaviation.com.au | May 12, 2017

Airbus Defence and Space has demonstrated automatic air-to-air refuelling contacts from a tanker’s refuelling boom without the input of the aircraft’s boom operator.

An A310 Multi Role Tanker Transport company development aircraft performed six automatic contacts with a Portuguese air force F-16 during a flight off the Portuguese coast in March, Airbus announced on May 9.

The technology, which Airbus says requires no additional equipment on the receiver aircraft, is intended to reduce boom operator workload, improve safety and optimise the rate of air-to-air refuelling, particularly in low visibility conditions.

“Initial approach and tracking of the receiver is performed by the tanker’s air refuelling operator (ARO) as usual,” Airbus said in a statement.

“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 directs the boom towards 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 March Defence and Airbus signed a research agreement to develop an automatic air-to-air refuelling capability for the Royal Australian Air Force’s KC-30As.

Airbus says the feature could be introduced on the A330 MRTT/KC-30A as soon as in 2019.

Comments (3)

  • Jason


    From a technology and workforce efficiency point of view this is significant and will free up valuable workforce for re-assignment. However, AROs Across the board do far more than boom operation so it will be interesting as to who conducts the Loadmaster component of their job. And of greater interest, who will now be responsible for manual operations should the automated system fails?

  • Paul


    Jason; I think you are getting ahead of yourself. The ARO is not out of the loop yet, and probably not for a while, if ever. The reduced workload would also include the pilot of the receiving aircraft. They only have to concentrate on keeping station and less on docking – with a quicker turnaround.

    I am more curious whether Defence will get some return in royalties having (part?) funded the R&D.

  • Dee Thom


    It puts Airbus Defence way ahead of the US B 767 future tankers, guess there would be a few Generals unhappy with their Congress decision to drop the A330 option.

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