Airbus Defence & Space has performed the A400M airlifter’s first air-to-air refuelling contacts with a helicopter.

The tests involved four flights conducted in normal day conditions over southern France.

During the test flights, the Airbus A400M performed 51 dry contacts with an H225M helicopter to simulate refuelling operations between 1,000ft and 10,000ft altitude at flight speeds as low as 105k.

The air-to-air refuelling dry contacts represent a key milestone for the A400M towards its full capability as a tanker.

Airbus noted that the tests were carried out under the coordination of the French ‘DGA Essais en vol’ flight test centre.

Earlier this year, the company performed proximity flights involving an H225M.

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By GlobalData

The firm expects to conduct wet contact operations by the end of this year. The tanker is anticipated to achieve final helicopter air-to-air refuelling in 2021.

In a statement, Airbus said: “The flight test campaign also included the first proximity trials between the A400M and an H160 helicopter requested by the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) in the frame of the feasibility study for the Guépard (future military multirole helicopter for the French Armed Forces). Tests were performed successfully.”

The A400M has the capacity to carry up to 50.8t of fuel in its wings and centre wing box.

The transport aircraft also supports the installation of two additional cargo hold tanks with a capacity of 5.7t of fuel each.

It can refuel fighter receivers such as Eurofighter, Rafale, Tornado or F/A-18. The tanker can also be used to refuel another A400M for buddy refuelling or large aircraft such as the C295.