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.