Airbus-RAAF to develop automated aerial refueling for A330 MRTT

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Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Airbus have signed a research agreement to develop an automated aerial refueling system for the Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft operated by RAAF.

The joint development of the automatic air-to-air refuelling (A3R) concept will be a major step forward in this field, which has now only be demonstrated by U.S. DARPA to refuel unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance aircraft.

The program intends to automate the tail mounted boom refuelling method, so as to reduce workload of the on-board air refuelling operator and increase operational efficiency by cutting the time for each contact.

Initial approach and tracking of the receiver is performed manually from the A330 MRTT’s console. Once the image processing system acquires the receiver and the receptacle position, the operator can use the system aid allowing the boom to automatically follow the receptacle.

Final extension of the boom’s telescopic beam is manually performed by its operator to make and maintain contact. RAAF and Airbus have successfully performed proximity trials, with physical contacts planned for the near future.

Called KC-30A in RAAF service, the aircraft is also equipped with a pod mounted hose and drogue aerial refueling system under each wing to refuel probe-equipped aircraft.

The KC-30A MRTT has a fuel capacity of more than 100 tonnes, and can remain 1800 km from its home base with 50 tonnes of fuel available to offload for up to four hours.

In its transport role, the KC-30A is capable of carrying 270 passengers, comes with under-floor cargo compartments and will be able to accommodate 34,000 kgs of military and civilian cargo pallets and containers.