Automatic Air-to-Air Refuelling (A3R) has been demonstrated to the RAAF during a trial in Spain.
A3R allows a tanker aircraft to autonomously guide the boom into contact with the receiver aircraft.
On June 20, the Airbus Defence and Space A310 tanker testbed used its A3R system to connect with a 33SQN KC-30A, during a trial flight off the coast of southern Spain.
Over a two-hour test period, the boom on the A310 autonomously performed seven connections with the KC-30A’s refuelling receptacle, marking the first time it has been used with a large receiver aircraft.
Previously, Airbus Defence and Space has conducted trials between its A3R-equipped A310 and an F-16C fighter.
During the 2017 Avalon Air Show, the RAAF agreed to collaborate with Airbus in development of pioneering technology for the KC-30A, which includes A3R.
The system requires no additional equipment to be installed on the receiver, and is intended to reduce refuelling boom operator workload and improve safety.
Easier connections will optimise the rate of air-to-air refuelling (AAR) in operational conditions to maximise aerial superiority.
During initial approach of the receiver, boom control is performed by the tanker’s Air Refuelling Operator (ARO) as usual.
Innovative passive techniques such as image processing are then used to determine the receiver’s refuelling receptacle position.
When the automated system is activated, a fully automated flight control system flies and maintains the boom aligned with the receiver’s receptacle.
The telescopic beam inside the boom can be controlled either manually or automatically.
David Piatti, Airbus’ Test Air Refuelling Operator on the A310, said it was impressive to see the A3R system accurately track the receiver.
“It is a challenging operation, and this system has the potential to reduce workload and the risk involved,” Mr Piatti said.
“It can very useful to be able to refuel another tanker or transport, for example to extend its deployment range or to avoid taking fuel back to base.
The trial in Spain was conducted in conjunction with Test Pilots and Flight Test Engineers from the RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU).
SQNLDR Lawry Benier, Executive Officer for ARDU, said the RAAF were assisting Airbus Defence & Space on the development of A3R and other technologies to increase the utility of the KC-30A within a battlespace.
“It’s very encouraging to come to Spain and see the progress that’s been made with A3R, and be able to witness it firsthand refuelling our KC-30A,” SQNLDR Benier said.
“Refuelling large receivers is a role RAAF has conducted extensively on operations and exercises, allowing us to extend the reach and responsiveness of our air mobility fleet, as well as keep surveillance aircraft in the air for longer.”